Union Wars: SEIU vs. UHW And NUHW

Over the past year, employers in California's health care

industry have witnessed a relatively quiet intra-union dispute

explode into an all-out battle for the hearts and minds of

thousands of represented employees in California's hospitals

and nursing facilities. There is no sign that the battle will end


The ousted leaders of a large California SEIU local, the United

Healthcare Workers-West (UHW), have regrouped to form a new union,

the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). NUHW is now

attempting to supplant SEIU as the collective bargaining

representative in as many UHW-represented facilities as possible.

As these two opponents pursue legal recourse against one another,

employers are increasingly caught in the middle of an otherwise

internal union dispute that has become increasingly public and


To help employers understand the nature of this dispute and to

assist them moving forward, this Insight provides both an

historical backdrop and an analysis as to many of the relevant

legal considerations.

Historical Background on SEIU and SEIU-UHW

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is a nearly

two-million-member union formed in the 1920's to represent

building service employees, such as janitors. Over the years, SEIU

grew to encompass workers in many fields, including both long term

health care workers and acute health care workers in California and

throughout the country.

In 2005, under the leadership of SEIU president Andy Stern, SEIU

withdrew from its 50-year association with the AFL-CIO, creating a

new coalition called "Change to Win." The new

organization's mission was to reverse decades of declining

union membership in the United States. SEIU sought to accomplish

this goal by pouring substantial resources into organizing new


That same year, two large SEIU locals in

California—Local 250 in Northern California and Local 399

in Southern California—merged to create a new, statewide

local with 150,000 members, headed up by President Sal Rosselli.

This new statewide local represented 65,000 long term health care

workers and thousands more in acute care hospital settings. As

president of this new SEIU local, Rosselli had a seat on SEIU's

executive committee, holding the title of Vice President of SEIU


SEIU and Rosselli Part Ways – UHW Placed in


One component of SEIU's plan to expand the ranks of

organized labor has been an effort to create industry-specific

"super locals." These industry-specific locals

purportedly have more leverage during collective bargaining, thus

enabling the local union to better focus limited resources on

organizing workers in a single industry.

Problems arose when SEIU decided that long term health care

workers had different interests than acute health care workers and

should therefore be placed into separate locals. For UHW and

President Rosselli, this meant that 65,000 long term health care

employees would no longer be dues-paying members of that local

union. Needless to say, this approach proved unacceptable to UHW


In early 2008, this internal SEIU dispute became public.

Rosselli abruptly resigned his leadership position with SEIU

International, while retaining his title as President of UHW.

Positioning himself as the champion of existing UHW members in

opposition to SEIU's alleged focus on prospective future

members, Rosselli explained his resignation as follows:

Over the past two years, a stark

difference has evolved between SEIU's projected image and its

real world practices. An overly zealous focus on

growth—growth at any cost, apparently—has

eclipsed SEIU's commitment to its members.1

Rosselli's resignation proved to be a shot across the bow.

Soon thereafter, SEIU accused UHW leadership of diverting millions

of dollars in membership dues to a war chest set up to battle

SEIU's attempt to carve out the 65,000 long term health care

workers from UHW. SEIU alleged that this constituted serious

breaches of its constitution.

In September 2008, SEIU scheduled a hearing to decide whether

UHW's alleged breaches of the SEIU Constitution were sufficient

to justify placing UHW in trusteeship. After hearing the evidence,

the hearing officer issued his decision in January 2009, finding

that UHW had engaged in serious financial wrongdoings. That

provided a basis under which the local could be placed in


After UHW and SEIU failed to reach agreement on implementing the

hearing officer's recommendations, SEIU officially placed the

local in trusteeship on February 1, 2009. As a result, Rosselli and

other top UHW officers were immediately removed from their

positions in UHW, and other UHW officials were placed on

administrative leave. Two co-trustees were appointed by SEIU to

take over the leadership of UHW.

What is the Trusteeship?

As set forth in Article VIII, Section 7(b) of the SEIU

Constitution, a trustee is "authorized and empowered to take

full charge of the affairs of the local union." This section

also provides that a trustee shall have the power to remove and

replace any of the local union's employees and agents and can

even replace the trustees of employee benefit funds. The trustees

appointed by SEIU have already exercised this power, as indicated

in a memorandum sent to employers of UHW-represented employees.

They stated that all former UHW representatives had been placed on

leave status and that their replacements would be named shortly.

Although the paid leave status seemingly left the door open for

some of the former representatives to remain with UHW, it is

unclear whether any of them will actually do so.

Along with the sweeping powers of the trustees comes significant

responsibility to safeguard UHW's finances. The SEIU

Constitution provides that the trustees "shall take possession

of all of the funds, books, papers and other property of the local

union." It also states that the trustees shall pay all of the


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