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Antiwar stance led to eviction

By Dan Shingler
Tribune Reporter

05/19/03: (Albuquerque Tribune) Pop quiz: In which country can a tenant be evicted for protesting against the government?

Answer: The United States of America.

That's what the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees Union's District 1199, based in Albuquerque, found out last month when they were evicted from their offices on San Mateo Boulevard.

According to the complaint filed by their landlord, Carroll Ventures Inc., the union "breached the terms of its lease by holding an anti-war demonstration. . . ."

The group also "created a nuisance and interrupted other tenant's quiet enjoyment of the premises," the complaint states.

The union local definitely held an antiwar demonstration, but it was at the intersection of San Mateo Boulevard and Cutler Avenue, and not at its offices at 2403 San Mateo Blvd. N.E., said Hospital Workers Union Director Eleanor Chavez.

As for disturbing other tenants, Chavez said the group met in the building's clubhouse, which it had reserved and used as a staging area for the event, but that meeting took place after 5 p.m. on a Friday evening, March 7, Chavez said. The police came, at the landlord's request, but left when they determined the group was not disturbing anyone, Chavez said.

Chavez said she believes the union was evicted not because its meeting disturbed other tenants but because its antiwar stance disturbed Carolyn Mason and her family. Mason is president of Carroll Ventures Inc., landlord at the Home Office Plaza building that the union occupied on San Mateo.

"It's kind of scary," Chavez said. "What's happening in this country? We talk about going to war with Iraq to defend freedom. Well, how do you define freedom?"

Mason was contacted but declined to comment on the matter.

The union lost its case in court in part because it failed to answer the complaint lodged against it. Chavez said she believed her attorney was handling he matter, but has since learned that he did not file a response with the court. As a result, state District Judge Geraldine Rivera accepted the charges against the union as fact and entered a default judgment against it.

In addition to being evicted, the union was ordered to pay Carroll Ventures attorney fees of $600 and court costs of $152.

Chavez has hired a new attorney and said the union will seek to have the judgment overturned.

The union's new attorney, civil rights and labor lawyer Linda Vanzi, said she hopes to convince the court to rehear the case on its merits.

"I have a hard time believing anyone who has a peaceful demonstration would be violating a lease," Chavez said.

The group might not be able to show that it did not violate its lease. But in any event, First Amendment rights don't come into play when it comes to disputes on private property, said Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico.

Simonson said that, in addition to the Hospital Workers Union, he has heard of tenants in apartment complexes and even members of homeowners associations who have been told they can't have antiwar signs on display.

"It really points out how little protection we have for our free speech in both the state and U.S. constitutions," Simonson said.

The union has relocated into an office it has leased from another labor organization. Danny Esquibil, president of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union in Albuquerque, said the union has nothing to worry about from its new landlord.

"I said, `Here, you're among friends, you can say whatever you want,'" Esquibil said.

 


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