Labor Magazine

Burning Lawyer Festval

"Burning Lawyer Festival" Roasts Famous California Labor Attorney

By Frank McMurray


September 27, !998 San Francisco

Who is Victor Van Bourg?

To Sal Roselli, the powerful president of SEIU 250, this labor lawyer is "a leader in the class struggle." To angry union workers participating in "The First Annual Burning Lawyer Festival" on Treasure Island in San Francisco he is a legal hit man, suppressing the rights of union members for power hungry (or corrupt) labor bureaucrats.

Either way, Van Bourg is the most famous labor attorney in the Northern California, representing a vast network of Union Locals, District Councils, Labor Councils and union benefit funds, plus a couple of International Unions.

50 union members who showed up to demonstrate against him at the entrance to Treasure Island last Thursday at 6pm handed out leaflets denouncing Van Bourg as "trampling on union members rights while getting fat from their dues money". Van Bourg was scheduled to appear at a dinner that evening on the city owned island celebrating the 10th anniversary of Sal Roselli's administration of SEIU local 250, one of the attorney's clients.

The press release for this anti-Van Bourg demonstration announced it as the "First Annual Burning Lawyer Festival," and the demonstrators showed up with a eight foot tall effigy of the attorney. While the grotesque figure was not set afire at Thursday's demonstration, one participant (who declined to give his name) said " we'll burn it in front of Victor's office"

Speaking from his Oakland office, Van Bourg sounded shaken by the demonstration. "I regard burning an effigy as an act of violence aimed at me" he declared.

The workers carrying picket signs in the cold wind represented a cross section of the unions Van Bourg is counsel for , including Laborers, Carpenters, members of SEIU 14 and SEIU 535, Operating Engineers, Painters, Pile Drivers, and members of SEIU 250.

Joey Figueroa, doorman at a San Francisco condominium and Trustee to SEIU Local 14's Pension and Welfare Trust Funds, said he has been fighting against "corruption in Local 14 and Victor Van Bourg" for many years. Pension and Welfare Trust Funds are responsible for money invested to pay union members pensions and health benefits.

"Last year," Figueroa said, "a new trustee, Dick Esler, was appointed to our Trust Funds by the employers , and he blew the whistle on the leaders of Local 14 for illegally skimming money out of our funds." "Van Bourg," he said, "who has been legal counsel for the Funds for the last 15 years." had done and said nothing about the skimming. Last June the Federal Organized Crime Strike Force opened a criminal investigation of Local 14.

When the management trustee filed suit against the local and two of it's leaders to recovery the skimmed money, Van Bourg went to court to defend Local 14 against repaying money stolen from its members. "And," Figueroa concluded, sadly, "Van Bourg is still the lawyer for the funds as well."

Local 14 is currently under trusteeship, run by several appointed Deputy Trustees. One of those Trustees, Ben Monterroso, agreed that there is a lawsuit against the local to recover money for the benefit funds that might have been misused, and that Van Bourg was still attorney for the Local 14 and the trust funds. "Van Bourg is always fair and represents the best interests of the membership," Monterroso said.

Alex Corns is the Business Manager of Hod Carriers Local 36 (a part of the Laborers Union) and a man who has watched Victor Van Bourg "for many years.".

"Van Bourg is the attorney for the [Laborers Union] District Council and for [Laborers] Local 67," Corns said during an interview. "When Tony Garcia [Business Manager] of Local 67 was charged with corruption by the union, Van Bourg defended him despite the obvious conflict of interest - he was representing the union and this corrupt officer. Finally the Appellate Officer in charge, Neil Eggleston ...ordered him to stop representing Garcia.

"The same thing happened" Corns continued, "when the Secretary Treasurer of local 294, Larry Guinn, was charged with corruption and removed ...Eggleston had to force Van Bourg to stop representing Guinn while he was also counsel for the union.

"But when a crooked contractor didn't pay health benefits to the Laborers who were removing asbestos at [San Francisco] City Hall, Van Bourg would not do a thing...Even after Jerry Rodarte [Business Manager of Local 67] filed 6 grievances for those workers, Van Bourg did nothing. And he is the attorney for Local 67 and for the benefit Trust Fund. Van Bourg" said Corns, "is happy representing corrupt union big shots, but he wouldn't left a finger for those asbestos workers who were so badly exploited one guy had to quit... [and] go on welfare to get coverage for his wife to have a baby. There was an article about it in the Bay Guardian."

"On at least two occasion I know of," Corns said, "Van Bourg intervened on behave of contractors who were not paying benefit for their workers. And then at the library in Foster City, Van Bourg and the [Laborers] District Council sided with a non-union contractor - Spray On Systems - against the local union that was picketing the project to enforce the contract... Is that a union lawyer?"

When asked to comment about this and other issues the demonstration had raised , Van Bourg said: "I will not discuss my clients or their cases" Tim Saunders, Trustee of the California Association of Interns and Residents (CAIR) says Van Bourg and his firm had used a series of lawsuits against CAIR and some of its board members to "intimidate" them and "create a kind of a hostile take over of CAIR" by SEIU Local 250.

According to Saunders, CAIR had united with Local 250 in 1996, after carefully negotiating an affiliation agreement that gave the organization the right to run its own affairs within Local 250 and the right to leave if the members of CAIR were not happy with their treatment. The Interns and Residents say that 250 did not live up to its promises, and when they attempted to leave, the Van Bourg firm unleashed the lawsuits to hold them in 250 against their will.

"Our affiliation with L. 250 has turned into a horrible nightmare" said Tammie Quest, MD, former President of CAIR. "SEIU 250 has refused to recognize our CAIR Executive Board, attempted to steal our savings, refused to follow through with promises in our Affiliation Agreement, [and] repeatedly sued our Officers and our organization as a whole."

Sal Roselli, President of Local 250, acknowledged that Van Bourg had filed several lawsuits against members of CAIR for his local, but said the issues are currently being negotiated. Roselli said "Victor has been a leader in the class struggle for workers for decades and we're very proud of him"

Will the Burning Lawyer Festival become an annual event in San Francisco? "I sure hope so," said SEIU member Don Baldich. He looked up at the effigy of Van Bourg, its suit flapping in the brisk wind off the bay. "maybe we could have a contest...everyone could build a dummy of the lawyer they hate the most..." ###

Copyright by SWEAT LABOR MAGAZINE. This article may be reprinted free of charge by any union or worker oriented publication provided this messages is included as is. SWEAT LABOR MAGAZINE is located on the web at sweatmag.org and can be reached by e-mail at sweat@sfo.com

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