Break-away union to pay $1.5 million in damages to California SEIU

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[Editor's Note: Clarification on the nature of the liability for the damages awarded has been added below.]

A federal jury has ordered the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW), a former rival of the Service Employees International Union based in California, to pay $1.5 million in damages to its old parent union, according to news reports.

The SEIU in January, 2009 ousted Sal Rosselli and other leaders of its Oakland-based local United Healthcare Workers West, charging them with misuse of members' dues. Rosselli and the other local leaders immediately formed their own union, NUHW, and attempted to convince workers to leave the SEIU for the new organization. (McKnight's, 2/4/09) The SEIU sued Rosselli and the others for $25 million in damages, including benefits and salaries paid immediately before the ousting, according to the San Francisco Business Times.

The jury in the case awarded total damages of more than $1.5 million. NUHW was ordered to pay $724,000, and the 16 individual defendants in the case were ordered to pay varying amounts totaling roughly $850,000, a clerk for the United States District Court for the Northern District of California told McKnight's.

Union and labor experts are divided on the interpretation of the verdict, according to the Business Times. That NUHW was found liable and ordered to pay damages to the larger union is a clear victory for SEIU. Still, because the penalty is so small—less than one-sixth of SEIU's legal costs—the decision is not likely to deter other groups from defecting from SEIU, the Business Times reports.