The subject of a smoke-free workplace has been opened at the bargaining table after the county Board of Education and school workers failed to reach an informal consensus on such a policy.
The touchy question of smokers' vs. non-smokers' rights was left open about a year ago when some of the associations representing school workers contended the issue should be resolved in contracts.
"The state Board of Education has said that smoking is something that should be negotiated," said Harold Fox, chief negotiator for theCarroll County Education Association, which represents about 1,300 teachers.
Carroll school board representatives, concerned about thehazards of passive smoke, approached the associations about developing a smoke-free workplace policy outside of contract talks.
"We felt it was an issue that didn't lend itself to the collective bargaining environment," said William H. Hyde, assistant superintendent of administration. "It was tied into health kinds of issues and staff as role models."
When that approach failed, the board proposed a smoke-free workplace policy when contract talks began last fall. Under theproposed policy, the use of tobacco products would not be permitted in any indoor school facilities.
Teachers and other school workersare allowed to light up in designated smoking areas. Students, however, are not allowed to smoke and face disciplinary action if they violate the policy.
Smoking, secondhand smoke and smokeless tobacco have been found to pose "definite health hazards," such as lung cancer, school officials said.
"Smoking is a health issue, but it's alsoan issue of the rights of smokers," Fox said. "Smokers feel stronglythat they should not be forced out of a building to engage in their right to smoke."
Susan R. Buswell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said she knows of no school district in the state that had negotiated a smoke-free policy in contracts with workers.
She noted that the Frederick County Board of Education tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a smoke-free workplace policy a few years ago.
Whether the issue can be resolved in Carroll remains to be seen. So far, only the association representing administrators and supervisors has accepted the smoke-free workplace policy in a tentative contract.
The associations representing clerical workers and teachers have said the policy should require the district topay for smoking-cessation programs.
"We agree that is something we could do through our employee wellness program," Hyde said. "We seeit as a good thing."
He noted the district offered a cessation program through Carroll Community College and only about 14 school workers participated. Hyde said he did not know whether any smokers weresuccessful in quitting.
Other concerns have been raised, too.
Food service workers, for example, have said the implementation of a smoke-free workplace policy may push employees to group outside cafeteria doors, which are generally out of sight of students and the public, to smoke.
CCEA's Fox said that his group has objected to the board's stance that the policy is something "they must have now. It doesn't come across as a bargaining issue but as an impasse issue."
In addition, Fox said if CCEA agreed to such a policy, the association would like to see it phased in over a period of time.
Hyde said the school board is hopeful the policy will be accepted by workers and take effect as soon as July or September.