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April 24, 2014

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SEIU’s top two leaders quit (UPDATED)

After months of vicious infighting, the two top officials of the Service Employees International Union Nevada have resigned.

Executive Director Jane McAlevey and President Vicky Hedderman submitted their resignations to the union's executive board this evening, "in an effort to move the union out of the period we’ve been going through, so we can move forward and focus on issues that actually matter," said SEIU spokeswoman Hilary Haycock.

SEIU Nevada is one of the state's largest unions and represents 17,500 health care and public sector workers. Its two leaders have clashed over the direction of the local.

Some members have raised concerns about a lack of internal union democracy. Among other examples, they point to the overturning of an election in which several candidates opposed to McAlevey won, leading to a second contest in which McAlevey and her top lieutenants — whose job it is to represent all members — actively campaigned for favored candidates.

That election is now the focus of a Department of Labor investigation.

The division was on display again in in a failed takeover attempt by a rival union at an SEIU-represented hospital. The California Nurses Association won more votes than the SEIU but not a clear majority because some nurses voted for "no union."

The California union is now posturing to unseat the SEIU at University Medical Center.

We should note that McAlevey was widely credited with reforming the union since coming to Las Vegas in 2004, winning good contracts for public employees in Clark County and for nurses at Las Vegas Valley hospitals and increasing political activism.

Two separate attempts by the international union to mediate the dispute apparently failed.

"This is the right time to offer members of our organization the opportunity for a new beginning," Haycock, the spokeswoman, said. "The distractions had gone on far too long in an organization that both people have built."

Vicky Baca, who has been working in the international union's public services division with a focus on organizing, will replace McAlevey for the next six months while the local's executive board conducts a national search for her replacement. Shauna Hamel, the union's executive vice president, will replace Hedderman.

“Far too much time and energy has been focused on personality issues rather than on the important work of improving the lives of our members,” Hedderman and McAlevey said in a joint letter of resignation. “We believe it is time to move beyond the current situation so that our members can continue to win the improvements they deserve.”

The union's executive board vowed to win standard-setting contracts in negotiations with Catholic Healthcare West’s St. Rose hospitals, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and six other employers currently at the bargaining table.

The message is clear: unity.

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