SANTA ROSA -- The National Union of Healthcare Workers today said it reached a tentative agreement with Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital that allows for across-the-board wage increases and other benefits, which the union called "a huge victory" that ends nine years of union-organization efforts at Sonoma County's biggest hospital.

The agreement, which NUHW and hospital owner St. Joseph Health System say will be going to employees to ratify this week, includes improved retirement benefits, seniority and just cause rights, employment security protections, representation rights and other improvements, according to the union.

“It’s been nine long years, but now that we have a great contract, it’s been worth every minute of it,” Anne Beach, a surgical database specialist at the hospital, said in a statement. “Our experience shows that when you stick together and you don’t give up, you win. That’s what NUHW is all about.”

The new contract represents nearly 700 currently nonunion employees, who initially attempted to organize through Service Employees International Union -- United Healthcare Workers West. But a rift between SEIU leadership in Washington, D.C., resulted in the formation of NUHW by dissatisfied SEIU members, and workers in Santa Rosa voted to join with NUHW.

Although workers chose NUWH over SEIU-UHW, the number of employees voting for no union was much closer to those voting for NUHW, prompting St. Joseph Health System--Sonoma County to challenge the election results with the National Labor Relations Board.

Members of the union's bargaining unit will vote on the three-year contract tomorrow, according to Debra Miller, vice president of human resources for the health system in Sonoma County.

"Since the hospital initiated negotiations with the union in May of 2011 for this initial contract, bargaining has progressed with a spirit of collaboration demonstrated by representatives of both NUHW and the hospital," Ms. Miller said in a statement. "We are grateful for this collaboration and look forward to continuing to work closely with representatives of NUHW, as we do with all the unions representing our employees."

"In keeping with St. Joseph Health System’s core values, which include respecting the inherent dignity of each individual, we are committed to continuing to work in good faith with the NUHW and other unions which represent our staff," Ms. Miller added.