A health care union claimed victory Friday in an organizing election at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, but the hospital said it's not clear if the National Union of Healthcare Workers received enough votes.

"We are all so excited to finally have a voice to make our hospital a better place to work and better for our community," said Nancy Timberlake, a telemetry technician at the hospital. "We stuck together for six years and we finally did it. I'm so relieved and so happy that we won."

But the hospital said 17 ballots were challenged, and it's not clear if the union has a majority.

The 17 ballots were cast by workers not on a list of eligible voters, according to NUHW.

The preliminary tally was 283 votes for NUHW, 13 for the Service Employees International Union and 263 votes for neither union, according to the hospital and NUHW.

The National Labor Relations Board couldn't be reached for comment late Friday. The labor board has not certified the vote.

The two-day vote was a showdown between the breakaway health care union and the much larger SEIU.

The decision affects almost 700 employees at Memorial Hospital, including radiology and respiratory technicians, nurse's aides, housekeepers and dietary workers.

St. Joseph Health System of Orange County, which runs Memorial, had strongly opposed the organizing effort.

NUHW accused SEIU of trying to interfere in the election.

Adriana Surfas, an official with SEIU-UHW, said of the vote, "We are disappointed, and we wish the Santa Rosa workers well."

Of about 675 employees who were eligible to vote, 576 cast ballots, the hospital said.

"I want to thank all employees who stepped forward to ensure their voices were heard during this election," said Kevin Klockenga, St. Joseph's CEO.

You can reach Staff Writer Steve Hart at 521-5205 or steve.hart@pressdemocrat.com.