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Scathing Emails Highlight Dem Party-Union Rift

Leaders of the county’s Democratic Party and one of the most politically influential local unions have been at odds throughout the year. The behind-the-scenes fight climaxed this summer with a physical altercation, followed by a series of emails obtained by Voice of San Diego.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 569 building in Clairemont Mesa / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

There’s a major rift in San Diego’s progressive coalition.

Leaders of the county’s Democratic Party and one of the most politically influential local unions have been at odds throughout the year. The behind-the-scenes fight climaxed this summer with a physical altercation, followed by a series of scathing emails obtained by Voice of San Diego.

The dispute grew out of a lingering fight over the high-profile sexual harassment and workplace discrimination allegations facing Mickey Kasparian, the president of another union and the former head of the influential San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council who launched his own competing group this spring.

In June, Jessica Hayes, the chair of the county’s Democratic Party, wrote Nick Segura, the business manager of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, to tell him the party could no longer hold its delegate meetings at IBEW’s union hall.

Activists had been holding protests outside the union hall during party meetings to demonstrate against the party’s continued support for Kasparian and the offshoot group he created, the San Diego Working Families Council. IBEW has supported the women raising allegations against Kasparian and the move to unseat him as head of the Labor Council.

In one incident, the protesters followed Lori Kern, a member of the party’s central committee and a worker for UFCW, which Kasparian also heads, through the parking lot and into a meeting, chastising her through a bullhorn for supporting Kasparian. Eventually, Kern grabbed the bullhorn, cursed at the protesters and gave them the finger. That dispute led to a lengthy social media argument between the protesters and Sarah Saez, a UFCW organizer, before Hayes emailed Segura.

Because IBEW had a policy not to restrict protesters on its property, Hayes said, the party had to relocate its meetings.

“Unfortunately, IBEW 569’s policy has now led to an assault on a SDCDP member in the parking lot of IBEW,” she wrote. “This woman was targeted because she is an employee at UFCW. All members, no matter their affiliation, must be safe in coming and going to our meetings. IBEW 569’s policy does not allow for safe passage and our members no longer feel safe at your location.”

She said she could no longer tolerate IBEW allowing protesters to stand at the door and shout into meetings with a bullhorn.

Hayes’ email didn’t stop at the protesters. It also alleged that leaders of the San Diego Building & Construction Trades Council – of which IBEW is a member, and close political ally – were trying to overthrow her and were sowing discord in their collective coalition.

“As a side note, the invective used by Tom Lemmon in phone calls and voicemails to me and in person to other members of the party, the email from Carol Kim wanting to unseat me, the relentless attacks on the Democratic Party, have had their desired chilling effect between the Democratic Party, IBEW and Building Trades,” she wrote. “Members are disheartened and confused by Building Trades’ attacks on the party and by the gleeful destruction of this relationship … I am fervently praying this unfettered wave of destruction launched by Building Trades and focused on the Democratic Party stops soon before damage is dealt that we cannot undo.”

She included a personal plea as well. Hayes said her daughter works on union construction sites, and while she was “hopeful IBEW would not harm her,” she said she was “fearful the Building Trades leadership will turn their focus on her.”

“Please do not harm her or punish her or let her be harmed or punished for whatever (IBEW and Building Trades leaders) feel I have done,” she wrote. “Please, please keep her safe.”

It’s that last part that attracted the most attention in an email Segura sent in response.

Segura wrote that he was insulted Hayes suggested he or his staff would harm her daughter and accused her of resorting to offensive anti-union stereotypes.

He said she had referred to Building Trades as “union thugs.”

“I am particularly concerned because it is not the first time in your brief time as chair that you have used rhetoric that comes off as bigoted towards the labor movement.”

The rest of his email conveys that the final dispute with the protesters was not the only internal issue on the left.

He said Hayes was announcing the party’s decision to relocate its meetings in “a very provocative way, which risks burning bridges between the party and the labor movement at a time we cannot afford such divisions.”

He included 10 other party leaders and select figures from IBEW and Building Trades on the email.

“Clearly there is growing frustration among some unions (not just in the Building Trades) with various things you have said and done,” Segura wrote. “And, to be honest, the tone of your email and the fact you thought it was a good idea to send it kind of confirms the concerns people have been raising about your judgement. But none of this is beyond repair (yet).”

He invited Hayes and other party leaders to take a step back and mediate the conflict.

“Jessica, I don’t want things to spin out of control here,” he wrote. “But your email makes me worry we are on a collision course.”

Hayes would not speak on what else precipitated the incident, or what’s happened since the emails were sent in June.

“I am very disturbed you have those emails,” she said. “I don’t have a comment.”

Gretchen Newsom, IBEW’s political director, didn’t have much more to say.

“It’s something in the past and something I don’t have further comment on,” she said.

Newsom said IBEW continues to support the Democratic Party, including acting as a lead sponsor of the party’s convention last month. It donated $10,000 to the party on Sept. 27, according to the California secretary of state’s office. UFCW gave the same amount earlier in the month.

The party and local unions managed to set aside their differences and show a consolidated front in recent months during a run of victories.

In addition to easing their path to victory in countywide elections and taking control of the San Diego Association of Governments, progressives this summer also unified against a proposal from Mayor Kevin Faulconer to hold a special election to raise hotel taxes to pay for a convention center expansion.

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