MDV with a Twist: Union v. Union

A San Francisco jury has just returned a verdict in a lawsuit brought by the SEIU against a rival union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers. This is the next step in what has been a long battle between the SEIU and the faction that that broke away from it to form a new union. For some of the background, check out A Battle for Labor’s Future by Dan Clawson which was published in Z Magazine in June, 2009.

BeyondChron writer Randy Shaw, in his own words, “rushed right from the courtroom to get out this story, and some of my numbers on the verdicts may be slightly off,” on story that is headlined, BREAKING: SEIU Wins $1.5 Million Verdict in Trial Against NUHW.

I have not followed this internecine fight, but from the tone of Shaw’s article it seems he is taking the NUHW side. Noting that the $1.5 million was far less than the $25 million SEIU sought, he also takes the view that the suit had four purposes and perhaps the strongest reason was merely personal. He thinks the suit failed in that goal. With respect to the other three goals he attributes to the SEIU for this litigation, he had this to say:

The first three [goals] were to deplete NUHW resources by forcing its leaders to spend time and money defending themselves, send a message to hospital and home care workers facing elections that NUHW cannot not be trusted, and turn the Rosselli leadership team into a cautionary example for other SEIU locals that are considering publicly questioning President Stern’s agenda. None of these goals were achieved by the verdict.
First, NUHW has far more organizing resources today than at any point since the trusteeship began. NUHW’s organizing was not impeded by the trial. Second, the verdicts say nothing about workers not being able to trust NUHW. To the contrary, the verdicts punished former SEIU-UHW leaders for providing too much loyalty to members. Had NUHW leaders gone along with the transfer of home health care workers out of the local without a vote, the trusteeship would not have been imposed and many would not have jury awards against them today.
Significantly, Sal Rosselli, long described by SEIU as the leader who single-handedly pushed SEIU-UHW over the edge, did not get an award much larger against him than the others (the award against Rosselli was $70,600, Borsos, Lewis, Martin was $66,600, Goldstein $73,850, with Cornejo and others at $36,600. Paul Kumar won a defense verdict). Third, as for the lawsuit deterring internal SEIU criticism, since the lawsuit began two major SEIU locals — 888 in Boston and 1021 in the San Francisco Bay Area — have elected reform slates.

His view of the real winner from the case is also interesting:

The chief beneficiary of this trial is likely to be hospital owners USC University Hospital in East Los Angeles, who will use the jury verdict as part of their ongoing strategy to convince workers to vote for “no union.” Management will not only make the case that an independent jury has confirmed that workers cannot trust NUHW’s leadership to protect members, but will also argue that workers should avoid being caught in the middle of inter-union disputes so rancorous that they end up in federal court.

Rarely do parties say nice things about each other during the heat of litigation and it does seem quite likely that testimony taken from this trial is apt to appear in future union campaigns.

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