Thursday, March 11, 1999

UPW claim laughable
about law on smoking

TWO years ago, the Honolulu City Council approved an ordinance extending the smoking ban in offices to small businesses. Since the ordinance has been followed without substantial controversy, the state Legislature now wants to extend its requirements statewide.

Info Box The Senate is considering just such a proposal, but has become sidetracked by the outrageous suggestion that state law must comply with existing collective bargaining agreements with county and state employees. Gary Rodrigues, state director of the United Public Workers, contends that it would somehow be unconstitutional to ban smoking in state offices where UPW members work without first negotiating the issue in collective-bargaining agreements.

The notion that collective-bargaining agreements take precedence over state law is absurd. Under Rodrigues' theory, labor contract negotiators could make employees covered under the agreement exempt, if they wished, from other occupational safety and health requirements.

Some legislators, however, seem traumatized by Rodrigues' demand that state law go no further than what exists under those labor contracts. Under one union-pandering proposal, the smoking ban would apply only if arrangements for smoking in the workplace had not been negotiated in labor contracts.

The UPW has won an arbitration case allowing its members to smoke in designated areas in public schools and also has a case before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board challenging a policy that bans smoking in the state Department of Transportation. The union can legitimately challenge smoking bans imposed by departmental policy, but not by state law.

The Legislature should move ahead to approve a statewide smoking ban similar to that in place on Oahu. It should not give special treatment to workplaces covered by collective-bargaining agreements. Any state law regulating or banning smoking should apply to all workplaces, union or non-union.


NCAA eligibility

AS "March madness" begins with 64 of the nation's top college basketball teams competing in regional tournaments, a federal judge in Philadelphia has added to the confusion by nullifying the rule about who qualifies to play. The decision struck down the National Collegiate Athletic Association's requirement that freshmen in Division I schools score a minimum of 820 for an athletic scholarship. NCAA officials may be forced to establish more acceptable eligibility standards or leave the responsibility to individual schools.

The NCAA is expected to ask Judge Ronald I. Buckwalter to delay imposition of his ruling while it is appealed. Even if the motion is granted, NCAA officials seem to recognize that changes are needed. Charles Wethington, president of the University of Kentucky and chairman of the NCAA executive committee, says the organization has been considering options aimed at having initial eligibility standards to improve graduation rates and ensuring that incoming college athletes are prepared for the classroom.

The difficulty comes in providing such assurances without excluding economically disadvantaged students. Opponents of the current rule have complained that it discriminates against blacks, although Joe Paterno, the Pennsylvania State football coach, maintained in the early 1980s when the requirements went into effect that a lack of standards had hurt black students by allowing them into college academically unprepared.

Many schools, including the University of Hawaii, have tougher eligibility standards than the NCAA's. As long as Judge Buckwalter's ruling is in effect, the NCAA will be under pressure to create fair standards or, perhaps more appropriately, assign control of eligibility to the schools.


Cambodian trials

THE world community cannot take at face value the declaration by Cambodia's premier that a newly captured commander of the Khmer Rouge would be prosecuted for genocide in a local court. Premier Hun Sen has resisted an international tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge leaders. Promising a trial by the Cambodian government in the wake of the capture of Ta Mok was a way to fend off such demands. But it is questionable that Hun Sen would make good.

Other Khmer Rouge leaders -- including members of Pol Pot's inner circle -- have surrendered to the government and live freely in the country. Hun Sen has resisted calls to prosecute them, saying to do so could spark a new civil war.

However, Hun Sen makes a plausible point that divisions within the U.N. Security Council would almost guarantee that 72-year-old Ta Mok would die before any international court was organized. The United States and China, both permanent members of the Security Council, are at odds over the formation of an international tribunal. It is not clear that this impasse can be broken within a reasonable length of time.

Even if Hun Sen kept his pledge about local trials, the Cambodian courts lack the resources or the independence to adequately try the Khmer Rouge leaders for the killings of as many as 2 million people during their 1975-1979 rule.

The Clinton administration halted about $40 million in aid to the Cambodian government in 1997 after a violent coup by Hun Sen. Some $22 million in humanitarian aid continued through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). This year, U.S. aid to Cambodia is about $12 million and the administration is seeking congressional approval for $20 million for fiscal year 2000 -- with all the money going through NGOs and for humanitarian programs only.

Washington could put pressure on Hun Sen to agree to an international tribunal by threatening to continue to withhold aid. Even so, it's far from certain that the Khmer Rouge leaders will ever be fully called to account for their genocide.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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