State looks to
blow out workplace
But an amendment excludesBy Craig Gima
union members from the ban
The state Senate today appeared ready to pass a bill that would ban smoking in most workplaces statewide. But the bill also contains an amendment that could allow public and private union members to smoke at work despite the ban.
The amendment was inserted into the bill by the Labor and Environment Committee last week after United Public Workers union state Director Gary Rodrigues told the committee the union believes smoking in the workplace is covered by collective bargaining.
He also said it would be unconstitutional to ban smoking in state workplaces without negotiating it first in contracts.
The UPW won an arbitration case that allows its members to smoke in designated areas in public schools. It also has another case before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board challenging a policy that bans smoking in the state Department of Transportation.
The bill's author, Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Kalihi), said the intent of the amendment was to allow the smoking ban to take effect after current labor contracts expire.
But an attorney who has lobbied the Legislature on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce said the bill as written would not do what its authors intended.
"I think the language is so broad, it might raise legitimate questions about whether the Senate intends to exempt all unionized employees irrespective of whether their labor agreement addresses smoking issues," said Perry Confalone, an attorney who specializes in labor issues.
Chun Oakland said if there are flaws in the bill, they can be corrected in the House or in conference committee as the bill advances.
The bill is similar to a 1997 Honolulu ordinance that already bans smoking in most workplaces on Oahu.
Under the bill, smoking would be permitted in partially enclosed areas, but it would not be permitted in enclosed hallways and lobbies. It would apply to any business with two or more employees.
The measure also exempts restaurants, bars and hotel facilities from the ban.
"We didn't go that far yet," Chun Oakland said.
She said the bill is a first step toward creating a healthier environment for workers.
"It basically sets a standard that smoking should not be in the workplace," Chun Oakland said.
The Health Department and other health advocates support the bill.
The Health Department testified that environmental tobacco smoke is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, behind active smoking and alcohol and that it is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a "Class A" carcinogen.
State Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai) said he is against the bill because it creates unnecessary regulation.
"I don't support the bill because it puts excessive paperwork and regulatory burden on really small businesses," Slom said. "Once they get that (smoking ban) in place they can add even more restrictions later."
Hawaii Revised Statutes