A nearly nine-year fight to unionize hundreds of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital employees is expected to end Tuesday with ratification of a contract covering rank and file workers.

The three-year agreement, reached a week ago, includes wage increases, seniority rights and job security protections, the union said.

The contract between Memorial Hospital and the National Union of Healthcare Workers, or NUHW, covers about 700 employees, including stenographers, housekeepers, dietary aides, lab assistants and respiratory care practitioners.

Peter Tappeiner, an organizer with the union, said workers under the contract will receive a 7 percent wage increase over the next two years. Their current level of retirement benefits were maintained, and Memorial agreed to create a joint committee with the union to evaluate ways of improving health care for retirees.

Labor organizing at Memorial began in 2003.

"This is the culmination of all that work and almost a year of negotiations," said Jack Nicholson, a radiology technologist and member of the union bargaining committee.

"We feel its a good first contract, and we want to get the process in motion," he said.

An NUHW representative said the union did "not feel comfortable" sharing details about how much workers are paid until after Tuesday's vote.

The effort to unionize non-nursing staff at Memorial Hospital was headed by the United Healthcare Workers West, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. In late 2004, the SEIU filed a petition to represent service and technical employees.

A number of Memorial Hospital employees who were with NUHW had participated in the organizing effort under the UHWW-SEIU banner. But in early 2009, SEIU took full control of the Oakland-based UHWW and removed its leaders, including President Sal Roselli.

The actions splintered the regional union and fueled the growth of the NUHW. Many key SEIU faithful at Memorial threw their support behind NUHW, while SEIU organizers struggled to maintain support at Memorial.

By December 2009, when an official union vote was held, hospital employees had to choose between NUHW, SEIU or no union. NUHW eventually was declared the winner, although the hospital for a time challenged the vote.

In December 2010, hospital officials conceded to NUHW and said they were ready to negotiate. Negotiations began last May.

Debra Miller, vice president of human resources for the St. Joseph Health System in Sonoma County, said in a statement that negotiations were conducted with a "spirit of collaboration."

"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," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.