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Union leaders ousted in bitter fight

January 27, 2009 |  5:20 pm

The leaders of an Oakland union were removed from office Tuesday by their Washington bosses, the culmination of months of fighting over who will represent tens of thousands of home health aides.

The Service Employees International Union served the officers of the 150,000-member United Healthcare Workers West with a trusteeship notice Tuesday afternoon. UHW leaders said they have “rejected” the imposition.

Word quickly spread among rank-and-file members, some of whom began leaving their hospitals and other workplaces to converge on UHW’s office in Commerce, its Southern California headquarters.

“We knew it was coming, and now we have to get real and decertify,” said Eleanor Mendoza, a receptionist for Kaiser Permanente in Cudahy and a UHW member. “You can’t have people from the other side of the United States” running the union.

The two groups --SEIU, led by President Andy Stern, and UHW, led until now by President Sal Rosselli --have been in a protracted disagreement over organizing methods and how to lead California’s healthcare workers.

The battle lines have been drawn over 65,000 home health aides, currently members of UHW. Rosselli said they want to stay in UHW, where they have been well represented.

SEIU has decided to merge them with home health aides in two other California unions, forming a new 240,000-member local that would initially be run by Stern's appointee.

Stern said the mega-local would be a stronger force in Sacramento. Tuesday’s notice strips UHW officials of power over all its members, not just the health aides, SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette said.

“They’re no longer the elected officers of UHW,” she said. “We are the legal authority over that local.”

-- Evelyn Larrubia