Jury Orders NUHW and Several of Its Leaders to Pay $1.5 Million to SEIU-UHW

A San Francisco jury has awarded the Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers – West (SEIU-UHW) $1.5 million in damages in its lawsuit against many of its former officers and their upstart union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).  The verdict follows the conclusion of a 10-day trial and marks the latest saga in a deep-simmering feud between rival unions fighting for control over the representation of healthcare workers in California.  The total amount of the verdict includes $724,000 in damages against NUHW, with the balance coming from 15 separate verdicts against former SEIU-UHW officials ranging in amount from $30,000 - $74,000.  The jury concluded that the leaders were improperly devoting their efforts to the formation of NUHW, rather than the representation of their members in SEIU-UHW.  As a result, the jury ordered the leaders to repay their January 2009 salaries and to refund SEIU-UHW for directing staff to spend their time resisting the trusteeship and forming NUHW.

Many, if not all, of the former SEIU-UHW officials found liable in this case, including longtime leader Sal Rosselli and one of his top lieutenants, John Borsos, are current NUHW officers.  Under their leadership, SEIU-UHW amassed about 150,000 members and became one of the largest and most powerful locals in the SEIU.  However, Rosselli clashed with Andy Stern, the president of SEIU International, who accused the local of misappropriating funds and other nefarious acts.  In January 2009, Stern removed Rosselli, Borsos, and the other leaders, and appointed a trustee to lead SEIU-UHW.

Despite the damages award, the verdict does not represent a complete victory for SEIU-UHW.  Twelve of the former leaders named in the lawsuit were not ordered to pay any damages.  The total amount of the judgment is far less than the $25 million SEIU-UHW had sought.  And, according to NUHW, the amount of the verdict is far less than the legal fees SEIU-UHW incurred in the action.

As is customary in such a legal fight, the verdict does not mark the end of this dispute, but only the latest chapter.  NUHW has stated its intent to ask the U.S. District Court judge to throw out the jury’s verdict.  If the judge refuses to do so, NUHW has made clear its intention to appeal.

And, while NUHW and SEIU-UHW continue to square off in the courtroom, they will also be waging an even more significant battle—determining who will represent thousands of healthcare workers throughout California.  Several representation elections are likely to take place in the coming months to resolve that issue.  So, while the jury has rendered an important ruling in this feud, ultimately the most important verdict will be handed in by health care workers themselves.

This entry was written by Brady J. Mitchell.

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.