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Federal jury rules against new union seeking to represent healthcare workers

April 9, 2010 |  9:20 pm

A federal jury in San Francisco ruled Friday against an insurgent union fighting the giant Service Employees International Union for representation of tens of thousands of healthcare workers throughout California.

The civil case is the latest chapter in the nasty battle pitting the breakaway National Union of Healthcare Workers against the SEIU, one of the nation’s largest unions.

The rival group split off from the SEIU in January 2009 amid a bitter jurisdictional dispute. The SEIU filed suit in federal court, accusing the breakaway unit and its leaders of sabotage, theft, vandalism and other offenses. The NUHW and its leader, Sal Rosselli, denied any wrongdoing.

The SEIU originally sought some $25 million in damages. Testimony in the case lasted almost two weeks in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The federal jury, while finding in SEIU’s favor, awarded a much smaller amount, though how much the NUHW is required to pay remained in dispute. The SEIU said the rival union and its officers, including Rosselli, are liable for more than $1.5 million in damages. The NUHW said the amount owed was $737,850.

The SEIU hailed the verdict in a case that exposed “a scheme to undermine the well-being of union members.”

The NUHW called the lawsuit part of a “smear campaign” and said it planned to appeal.

The rival union said the case cost the SEIU $10 million in legal fees. Steve Trossman, an SEIU spokesman, called the figure “totally fabricated,” adding that the legal fees were probably less than $5 million.

The NUHW has been mounting an aggressive effort to unseat the SEIU as collective bargaining representative for healthcare workers at hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other sites throughout the state. The bitter battle has split union ranks nationwide.

-- Patrick J. McDonnell