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Democracy on Trial: SEIU's $25 Million Lawsuit Against Union Reformers Goes to Court Monday

SAN FRANCISCO, March 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- For the last year, SEIU officials have been suing 29 local union reformers and whistleblowers who exposed the union's corruption and backroom deals and helped healthcare workers protect their democratic right to join a new union after a hostile takeover.

On Monday, SEIU lawyers will have to argue their case in a trial that labor journalists and historians say is an unprecedented attack on workers' right to a democratic voice in their union.

"Are elected union leaders accountable to the workers who elected them, or must they only take orders from above, even when workers oppose it?" asked Cal Winslow, historian and author of Labor's Civil War in California: the NUHW Healthcare Workers' Rebellion.

"SEIU is advancing a dangerous legal theory that leaders can be personally targeted to collect damages, even when there is no allegation of personal gain, simply because of a difference of opinion."

The suit stems from SEIU's takeover of a local affiliate in January 2009. SEIU President Andy Stern seized control of California's healthcare union because its members had opposed him on issues of bargaining strategy and union democracy. In response to the takeover, workers voted to form an independent, member-led union called the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

Faced with petitions for more than 100,000 members to switch to NUHW, SEIU filed a civil lawsuit, threatening damages of $25 million against former local union staff and elected leaders who have been supporting workers' struggle to take back their union.

SEIU has reportedly spent down $10 million of members' dues money on four law firms to sue NUHW staff - even suing NUHW's attorneys - and has squandered political capital by threatening many of the elected officials and labor leaders who helped raise money for NUHW's legal defense.

In contrast, SEIU assigned just two junior attorneys to an ongoing lawsuit against Tyrone Freeman, a Los Angeles union official appointed by SEIU President Andy Stern who is accused of stealing more than $1.1 million from low-wage workers.

Despite SEIU's legal strategy, NUHW has become California's fastest-growing union, with thousands of former SEIU members joining NUHW over the last year.

SOURCE National Union of Healthcare Workers

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SOURCE National Union of Healthcare Workers
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