By Frank McMurray
September 27, !998
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
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
"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..."
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