The Service Employees International Union was awarded $1.5 million by a federal jury in San Francisco today from former health worker union leaders who started a rival union last year.

The dispute concerned the SEIU’s Oakland-based United Healthcare Workers West local, which represents about 150,000 hospital, clinic, nursing home and home care workers in California.

The SEIU claimed in a lawsuit that the local’s former leaders, including longtime president Sal Rosselli, sought to sabotage the parent union and misused union resources before the SEIU put the local into trusteeship and fired them on Jan. 27, 2009.

Roselli and the other former officials then formed a rival union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, known as NUHW.

The jury in the court of U.S. District Judge William Alsup reached the verdict on its third day of deliberation, following a 10-day trial.

The award includes $724,000 levied against the NUHW for diversion of resources and $854,150 assessed against Rosselli and 15 other officials for diversion of resources and for their salaries in January 2009.

SEIU-UHW member Bob Lewis, who works as a transporter at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco, said, “Today we have a clear public court decision laying out what they did for everyone to see.”

Lewis said, “It’s an independent finding that was made outside of SEIU and outside of NUHW–that the defendants are in fact the undemocratic and power-hungry people we thought they were.”

Attorneys for NUHW said they will ask the Alsup to set aside the verdict and said they will appeal if he does not do so.

United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, who raised money for the ousted officials’ legal defense, said in a statement that they were reformers who stood up for “a democratic voice in their union.”

NUHW spokeswoman Sadie Crabtree said the new union now has 3,357 members and that more than 100,000 health care workers have signed petitions for union elections that would enable them to join it.

The jury found no liability for eight other former UHW officials named in the SEIU lawsuit and the SEIU dismissed four others as defendants before or during the trial.

The Washington, D.C.,-based SIEU has 2.2 million members nationwide.

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