Battle Between SEIU and NUHW Moves into Court

The battle between two labor unions that seek to represent health care workers has entered a new phase.  On March 23, a highly anticipated civil trial began in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, pitting one of the nation’s oldest and largest unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), against the upstart National Union of Health Workers (NUHW).

The lawsuit filed by SEIU and its affiliate, the United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW), names 26 individual defendants, including Sal Rosselli, John Borsos, and other former UHW officials.  Attorneys for the unions argued in opening statements that the defendants anticipated as early as 2007 that the UHW would be placed into trusteeship, and began making efforts to sabotage the union and establish a new rival organization.

The SEIU took control of UHW in January 2009, following a report that found UHW leaders engaged in serious financial wrongdoing.  Among other things, Rosselli, Borsos, and others allegedly diverted millions of dollars in membership dues to challenge the SEIU International’s decision to place long term health care workers, who composed more than two-fifths of the UHW’s membership, into a separate union local.  Within days after the trusteeship, NUHW was established  by the UHW’s ousted leaders.

At issue in the trial is whether the former UHW leaders violated the union’s constitution and breached their fiduciary duties.  During the first week of trial, witnesses reportedly testified that: 

  • In April 2007, Roselli began conducting secret meetings with other senior UHW representatives, known as the “Shakers & Makers,” to secure funds, create a legal defense against the SEIU, and save member information in an outside database to be used in the event of a trusteeship;
  • Before the trusteeship was announced, UHW leaders betrayed the union by secretly sponsoring a disaffiliation petition, and through other efforts to have the UHW decertified and replaced as members’ exclusive representative;
  • UHW officials removed or destroyed documents, including grievance files, bargaining notes and memos from union offices in an effort to render the UHW “ungovernable” after a trusteeship;
  • Collective bargaining agreements to which UHW was a party were not renewed or were allowed to expire, in violation of the union’s legal duty to bargain in good faith with members’ employers;
  • UHW offices were barricaded to prevent trustees from entering;
  • NUHW supporters used threats and force to overrun SEIU offices, intimidate SEIU staff, and steal member contact information.

SEIU claims that the defendants’ conduct cost the union $5 million, including more than $1.7 million it spent on increased security alone.  SEIU also has demanded that the defendants refund their salaries paid while the leaders were “throwing sand in the eyes of their own union.”  The trial is expected to last two weeks.

For more on the ongoing battle between these rival unions, see Littler’s Insight article, Union Wars: SEIU vs. UHW and NUHW.

This entry was written by Frederick Miner.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.