Unions Support Efforts to Control Workplace Smoking

Role of organized labor in diffusing worksite smoking control policies

From 1993 to 1997, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Inc., Boston, and a subcontractor Northeast Research, a survey research firm, carried out telephone surveys to assess the attitudes and practices of national and local unions regarding worksite smoking policies.

In 1991, approximately half of private-sector nonagricultural employment was located in worksites where a majority of employees were unionized. Unions have the potential to influence the smoking habits of large numbers of workers, yet they vary in their level of support for worksite smoking policies.

Surveyors interviewed 166 leaders from 122 unions in the national union survey (response rate of 84% of unions). The survey of local union leadership was conducted with a random sample of 573 leaders (72% response rate).

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national program Tobacco Policy Research and Evaluation Program.

Key Findings

  • 43 percent of national unions and 48 percent of local unions supported either a complete ban on smoking or smoking restrictions in the worksite.
  • For national union offices, 52 percent prohibited smoking anywhere indoors and 25 percent allowed smoking only in designated areas. For local union offices, 31 percent prohibited smoking anywhere indoors and 12 percent allowed smoking only in designated areas.
  • One third of national and local unions reported efforts to jointly develop or implement smoking policies with management.
  • More than half of the national and local union leaders said worksite smoking policies placed unions in a no-win position between their members who smoke and those who do not.