In the biggest private-sector labor election since 1941, the giant Service Employees International Union has decisively defeated an insurgent group to continue representing about 43,000 Kaiser healthcare workers in California.
The SEIU received 18,290 votes to 11,364 for the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which was launched last year by several former leaders of the larger organization. The mail ballots went out in mid-September and the count was completed late Thursday.
The election was by far the largest and most significant showdown in the bitter feud between the 2-million-member SEIU and NUHW, which represents about 5,700 workers.
"This is a huge achievement," said Dave Regan, an SEIU executive vice president and trustee of the Oakland-based local that was on the ballot. "NUHW is now for all intents and purposes irrelevant. We're thrilled."
But NUHW leaders said they will petition the federal government to overturn the results and schedule a new election because of allegations that SEIU used illegal tactics to scare employees, something the bigger union denies.
In a statement, NUHW President Sal Rosselli said his group "will exhaust every opportunity to achieve a fair election for Kaiser workers to choose their union, free of fear and intimidation."
The SEIU-NUHW battle has disheartened labor activists because it has diverted money and foot soldiers from efforts to organize non-union workers and help elect Democrats in the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
NUHW's officers launched their organization after SEIU ousted them for refusing to go along with the transfer of thousands of members of their local to another chapter, a shift they denounced as undemocratic. The local, known as United Healthcare Workers West, was placed in trusteeship and NUHW began filing for elections to replace SEIU at hospitals and clinics up and down the state.
On Thursday, NUHW said it would have won the Kaiser contest if it had not been delayed for more than a year by objections filed by SEIU with the National Labor Relations Board. The new union also has accused Kaiser of colluding with SEIU, which the company denies.
Regan called NUHW's complaints "sour grapes" and said the group should abandon its campaign to unseat SEIU at other locations.
The Kaiser vote was the biggest of its type since the United Auto Workers organized Ford Motor Co.