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Jury Finds Against 16 Labor Bosses in Health Worker Case

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, April 13, 2010

Saying their labor leaders "lied to us [and] stole from us," and "put our families' financial security at risk," United Healthcare Workers West is claiming victory after a verdict from a U.S. District Court jury in San Francisco.

"The federal jury ordered defendants to pay more than $1.5 million in damages to the members they betrayed," said Erica Boddie, Labor Tri-Chair of the Workplace Safety Committee at Kaiser. "Today, the world knows without a shadow of a doubt that they are undemocratic and willing to work directly against members' interest for their own personal power. They aren't union reformers, they are union busters."

But Oakland attorney Dan Siegel, who represented defendant labor boss Sal Rosselli and 27 others in what was originally a $25 million accusation, said the jury cleared 12 of the defendants, and that the award at best was only $737,850. He added that if the judge denies his motion to set aside the dollar verdict, he will appeal.

The UHWW, a California division of the Service Employees International Union, represents 150,000 healthcare workers in 30 hospitals, including Kaiser Permanente, Catholic Healthcare West, and Sutter Health, clinics, housekeeping staff, radiology, and respiratory therapists, food service workers, and nursing home workers. Two-thirds of the workers are in Northern California.

The issue began in January 2009 when the SEIU removed Rosselli and other top labor officials and placed the unit in trusteeship. The union charged "they were found to have misused millions in members' dues money and violated members' democratic rights."

Rosselli and his colleagues then formed another labor union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers or NUHW, "and immediately began trying to convince SEIU-UHW members to switch to their new group," said the SEIU-UHW statement. "So far, 95% of SEIU-UHW members have chosen to stay."

In the lawsuit, UHW claimed Rosselli and other defendants conspired to use labor union resources to start a new union, developed secret databases, stole and destroyed documents, and moved $3 million of labor union members' money into a "slush fund" until they were "caught by the International Union and forced to return what they hadn't spent."

They accused Rosselli and his colleagues of using "violence and intimidation as part of their desperate attempt to hold onto power."

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