Sometime tomorrow the results of one of the most important union elections in history will be announced in California. The survival of the SEIU in California (and perhaps everywhere) hangs in the balance. The election will decide whether 43,500 Kaiser Permanente workers will remain SEIU members or will switch to the renegade NUHW that split from the SEIU last year.

No matter what the results, the case is likely to last a while longer. Even if NUHW loses the election tomorrow it is very likely they will challenge the results. After all, earlier this week the NLRB asked a federal court to enjoin Kaiser from withholding wage increases from NUHW members, which was the main argument the SEIU used to go after NUHW in the Kaiser election.

In a real way this election is a fight for the SEIU’s soul and future. The implosion of the the SEIU in California was presided over by former SEIU President Andy Stern, who needed to protect his political position and could not stomach the renegade local in California criticizing his organizing strategies. By placing the local in trusteeship in January 2009 and expelling its former leader Sal Roselli, Stern effectively imploded the SEIU in California. Ironically Stern left the presidency later last year, but the damage in California was already done.

The election campaign in California has already cost both unions millions of dollars. Should SEIU eventually lose the election (I predict they will, either through the vote or through objections later) they stand to lose millions more each year in dues income. The SEIU will remain quite powerful even if they lose this revenue stream, but it will be devastating to them in California. An emboldened NUHW could eventually begin picking off big healthcare units elsewhere in the country and that eventually could jeopardize the SEIU.

We will keep our readers posted as the ballots are counted and of course will follow the story of the aftermath, no matter who wins. The bottom line: watch this one carefully whether you are involved in healthcare or not. You may be witnessing the beginning of the end of America’s most powerful union.

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