Is it hypocrisy or perhaps irony? Either way, the United Auto Workers say it's unrelated. The issue is that the union, which is fighting Caterpillar Inc. on the issue of a smoking ban at all Caterpillar campuses, was one of the driving forces behind a new smoking ban at all Atlantic City casinos, effective in October.
Is it hypocrisy or perhaps irony? Either way, the United Auto Workers say it's unrelated.
The issue is that the union, which is fighting Caterpillar Inc. on the issue of a smoking ban at all Caterpillar campuses, was one of the driving forces behind a new smoking ban at all Atlantic City casinos, effective in October.
The Atlantic City ban was signed into law April 30 by that city's mayor, Scott Evans, in a ceremony at the UAW hall there.
A news release from the union said UAW-represented casino workers "fought for the measure to reduce their exposure to secondhand smoke at work."
Anybody who has been in a casino knows that the only thing that rivals it for the amount of smoke hanging in the air is a bingo hall, so secondhand smoke is definitely an issue. At least, more than in a factory. (I used to think being a smoker was a requirement for entering a casino.)
The Atlantic City bill was signed about two weeks before the UAW filed an unfair labor practice charge against Caterpillar, claiming the company's decision to ban smoking at its campuses - which includes in the parking lots outside the plants - was a violation of its contract with the union.
The ban took effect June 1 and Caterpillar employees immediately began challenging it, lighting up in the parking lot on their breaks. Many of them were suspended.
In the meantime, the National Labor Relations Board is still investigating the unfair labor practice charge, said Wes Hogsett, the new bargaining chairman of UAW Local 974 in East Peoria.
Hogsett said Friday that, while most of the workers suspended at the start of the ban are back to work, the company still is issuing suspensions for those who light up on company property.
Hogsett said the Atlantic City smoking ban situation has nothing at all to do with the Caterpillar ban.
"Hypocrisy? Not hardly. This is a situation where Caterpillar is stepping into a contract and unilaterally taking away something that was bargained. It can't do that, under federal labor law," he said.
"It is a contractual rights issue, not a smoking issue. It wouldn't make any difference if it was about smoking or vacation benefits or (personal) days or whatever. If it's in the contract, the company can't change it without bargaining and they didn't do that," Hogsett added.
Had the company done so, would the union have agreed to the smoking ban in exchange for another consideration? Possibly, Hogsett said, "but it wasn't brought up."
What about the ADA?
I got an e-mail the other day from somebody apparently knowledgeable about the Americans with Disabilities Act who said Caterpillar had the right to unilaterally ban smoking in the workplace if it interfered with the health of an employee with breathing problems. Under the law the company and union cannot bargain away what is allowed or not allowed by the ADA.
The e-mailer cited sections of the law as well as federal case law backing up his assertions. He said he informed Caterpillar of his findings.
Caterpillar declined to comment.
Hogsett was reluctant to discuss it but made a relevant point: The issue isn't about smoking inside the plant anymore. State law banned that beginning Jan. 1 and the union abides by it.
"I fail to see how it could be an ADA violation or bother a person with a breathing problem if it's outside in the parking lot and more than 15 feet from the door," he said.
Paul Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.