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Union Insists on No-Smoke Negotiations

On January 24, the CUNY Board of Trustees approved a revised tobacco policy, with a mandate that all campuses be smoke-free by September 2012. While not dissenting from the policy’s intent, the PSC said that these changes require negotiation with the union.

“The union’s negotiations committee is completely committed to ensuring that CUNY create a healthy environment for students, faculty and staff,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen, who stressed that the union did not anticipate opposing the revised policy’s underlying goals.

NEGOTIATIONS

But since the revisions concern terms and conditions of employment, the changes cannot be imposed unilaterally, the PSC said. Instead they must be negotiated, a point the union had raised prior to the vote by the Trustees.

Bowen’s January 25 letter to members made clear that the union’s aim was not to reverse the policy, but to address some practical concerns on how smoking restrictions are implemented. “We do see some ways it might be modified, especially at large campuses such as The College of Staten Island or Bronx Community College,” she wrote. The more fundamental point, PSC leaders said, is that the administration cannot choose to ignore a requirement to negotiate.

Bowen’s letter invited members to comment, and dozens responded. Some said that CUNY’s revised policy was “tyrannical” or “despotic,” while others wrote that “smoking kills,” and that “union shilly-shallying is shameful.” Others addressed practical issues, or voiced support for both the union’s right to negotiate and public-health concerns.

“I gave a lot of written feedback on this and was delighted to see its passage,” one member wrote, “but agree that certainly the union should be able to work on specifics for adjustment at the larger campuses.”

“I am not a smoker,” wrote another. “I once was and although I realize the health implications of the policy...I applaud your adherence to the legal right to bargain.”

Many members welcomed the idea that the revised policy would make their personal environment more consistently smoke-free, and wanted to make sure that this would not be put at risk if the union pressed CUNY to meet its legal obligation to negotiate.

Member e-mails often cited problems with secondhand smoke from those congregating by building entrances. “I sit all day in my lab inhaling secondhand smoke from outside my laboratory window,” one member wrote. “It is awful.” Another wrote that when smokers gather outside her building’s door, “They are not 30 feet away, but instead right outside the doors, sometimes less than a foot away if it’s raining or cold weather.” The shape of the entrance then “act[s] as a wind tunnel, and push[es] the smoke into the building.”

A common suggestion for larger campuses was to consider designated smoking spaces, “in isolated or low-traffic areas.” Many who suggested such adjustments noted that they do not smoke themselves, but said that this would be a more practical and enforceable alternative. “Simply put, I think designated smoking areas are a better route towards CUNY’s goals,” one said.

POSSIBLE PROVISIONS

One smoker wanted to know what provisions CUNY would make for those, like himself, who were “absolutely addicted” for 40 years. A non-smoker wrote that CUNY should provide “the opportunity to engage in a smoker cessation program” for all. “Since smoking is actually an addiction,” her e-mail continued, “it would behoove the University to offer the option cost-free to students and employees.”

PSC leaders thanked members for contributing their views. “CUNY is attempting to make more and more changes through policy statements rather than negotiating with the union,” Bowen said. “The union insists on negotiations to ensure that our members’ voices are heard and their concerns addressed.”

Related Coverage: CUNY Changes Multiple Positions Policy