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Breakaway union files lawsuit against SEIU

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Leaders of a California labor group battling the giant Service Employees International Union alleged in a lawsuit Tuesday that the SEIU engaged in a pattern of violent threats and strong-arm tactics against dissident unionists.

The suit, filed in Superior Court in San Francisco, is the latest salvo in the bitter intra-union clash pitting the SEIU against the breakaway National Union of Healthcare Workers. For two years, the rival group has been trying to woo SEIU members at California hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Each side has regularly accused the other of intimidation and other improprieties. Disputes have ended up in courtrooms and before the National Labor Relations Board. A fortune in union money has been expended on legal fees to the dismay of many in the labor movement.

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SEIU officials scored a decisive victory last year when the union defeated its rival and won a hotly contested battle to continue representing more than 40,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in California. But the smaller union — which says it represents some 10,000 workers — is challenging the outcome and still working to convince SEIU members to switch.

The new lawsuit accuses the SEIU — with some 2.2 million members nationwide, roughly half in the healthcare sector — of using physical intimidation, threats, racial and ethnic epithets and other tactics against its “enemies.”

Steve Trossman, an SEIU spokesman, dismissed the allegations as a “frivolous” string of “purported” incidents.

“This is just another publicity stunt by a group of people who are desperate because they are quickly sinking into oblivion,” Trossman said.

In one case, the lawsuit alleges, SEIU officials threatened dissident Latino home care workers in Fresno with deportation. The SEIU has denied the allegation.

Among those named as defendants are Andy Stern, former president of the SEIU, and Mary Kay Henry, the current president.

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The lead plaintiff is Sal Rosselli, who heads the rival healthcare union. A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Angela Alioto, said a verdict upholding the allegations could result in a multimillion-dollar judgment against the SEIU.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

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