Smoking suit hearing scheduled for todayA judge in Prince...


August 20, 1993|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer Knight-Ridder News Service contributed to this column.

Smoking suit hearing scheduled for today

A judge in Prince George's County's Circuit Court will hold an initial hearing today on a lawsuit that if successful, could ban smoking in all Maryland workplaces.

Al Ertel, an engineer at General Electric's Information Services division in Rockville, filed a suit last year asking the courts to force the state's safety agency to cite his employer for exposing him to a hazard: his co-workers' cigarette smoke.

The Environmental Protection Agency has said second-hand smoke causes up to 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year.

The state is fighting Mr. Ertel's suit, saying courts can force an agency like Maryland Occupational Safety and Health to investigate charges, but it cannot order them to make specific findings.

Cigarette smoke is not one of the hazards mentioned in workplace safety laws. MOSH could only cite an employer if it found that exposure to second-hand smoke violated a clause that says employers have a "general duty" to provide a safe workplace.

Jonathan Krasnoff, the assistant attorney general handling the case for MOSH, said he will ask the court to dismiss Mr. Ertel's suit.

If the suit survives, it will go to a full trial later in the fall.

Mr. Ertel says that GE has banned smoking at his office since he filed the suit nearly a year ago.

But he is pursuing the claim because other workers -- including two anonymous workers at Rosecroft and Laurel raceways -- have asked to join his suit for help in protecting them against second-hand tobacco smoke.

If he wins, Mr. Ertel believes he will set a precedent, making Maryland the first state to declare second-hand smoke an illegal work hazard for every citizen.

In the 33 years he has worked at GE, Mr. Ertel said he was often bothered by sitting near smokers, and often used eye drops to ease his burning, dry eyes. But when he read of studies linking "passive smoking" and cancer, he got angry.

Mr. Ertel, who says he has never been a workplace fighter before, complained to MOSH. And when MOSH refused to cite GE, Mr. Ertel filed the suit.

attorney general's office."

Economists have say on health insurance

What if they laid hundreds of economists end to end -- and most of them reached a conclusion on what to do about health insurance?

In one survey, two-thirds of the economists who responded said that the federal government should provide health benefits directly for low-wage workers.

Four out of five opposed a proposal floated by the Clinton administration to require employers to provide the insurance, saying the expense of the mandated benefits would force employers to reduce the number of entry-level jobs.

On the other hand, one out of 10 economists said they disliked both alternatives.

The survey of 611 economists was conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center for the Employment Policies Institute, a Washington-based think tank funded by restaurants and other big employers of low-wage workers.

Americans get less vacation than most

Yet again this year, Americans came up on the short end when vacation time was handed out.

An international survey by the consulting company Hewitt Associates, found that after one year of service, most Americans get only 10 vacation days -- the second lowest amount of time off of 22 developed and developing countries.

Only Mexican employers offered less time off -- only six vacation days after the first year. Austria and Belgium offered the most, with 30 working days off a year.

Americans tied for second-to-last with Japan and Canada.

But U.S. workers do tend to get more time off the longer they work, Hewitt found.

By the time workers have put in 15 years of service here, for example, 85 percent of large employers provide at least 20 vacation days.

Hewitt notes that while employer here are not required to give any paid vacation time, 82 percent do offer it.

Female engineers underpaid, survey finds

For years, women have been told to wait when they protested lower pay and all-male corporate leadership. Once women have held professional positions long enough, they will catch up with men in pay and advancement, the theory goes.

But a new survey of engineers contradicts that theory.

The more experience today's female engineers have, the less they earn compared with their male colleagues, the survey found.

The study, conducted by the Society of Women Engineers, indicates female engineers now start their careers earning slightly more than men, the survey found.

Women now in their 30s, however, see men begin to pull ahead, and for women who are now 50 or older, there is a pay disparity with male counterparts of 20 percent.

The survey also shows that men and women have vastly different impressions of what goes on at work.

Four times as many women as men said they knew of instances in which women and minorities were overlooked for career opportunities.

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