Teachers Union's Objections Sink Smoking Ban in Pennsylvania

The teachers at Pennsylvania's state colleges and universities have succeeded in doing what their students couldn't: overrule a statewide ban on smoking on campus.

Some students in the Keystone State raised a ruckus last September when the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education banned smoking throughout its 14 campuses, including all outdoor areas.

But the students' outcry went largely unheeded — until their professors chimed in.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), the union that represents the 6,000 faculty members and coaches in the state school system, objected to the smoking ban — and last month the state's Labor Relations Board overturned it, ruling that the education board had failed to negotiate with with the union.

The labor board ordered the education board to rescind the smoking ban for union members and to "cease and desist" from refusing to negotiate with the union.

And though no one has directly said so, it appears that the ruling also frees non-union emplyees and students from the smoking restrictions, as well.

That leaves schools such as Clarion, West Chester and Kutztown Universities, among others, with tenuous holds on their smoking bans — much to the delight of smokers like 21-year-old Clarion student Steven Dugan.

"We don't want to impose our habits on somebody else," Dugan said. Still, he added, the students wanted everyone else to know it was "our life, our body, our decision.... We weren't asking for the ability to stand in every doorway to smoke."

The education system can appeal the decision to the Commonwealth Court, but the system's spokesman, Kenn Marshall, says officials would rather meet with the union, students and other campus representatives to hammer out a "mutually acceptable" agreement that would accommodate the union and protect the health of the campus population.

But the union's communications director says the invitation to negotiate has come nine months too late.

"That's something we feel they should have asked to do up front," Kevin Kodish said. He added that the union would respond if the state system issued a demand to bargain.

Though this latest conflict regarding a public smoking ban has spurred headlines recently, the debate over a tobacco-free campus is nothing new for state universities.

Even before Pennsylvania's Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect in September, the state system had been moving toward a smoke-free campus, Marshall said. The universities banned smoking indoors long before Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell signed the act prohibiting smoking in many public areas in the state.

Because the act banned smoking in public places, which includes educational facilities, state university officials believed they could ban smoking both indoors and outdoors, because classes are sometimes held outside, Marshall said.

That logic may have been sound, the Labor Relations Board ruled, but the fact that no negotiations took place between the union and administrators left the outdoor smoking ban null and void for those in the union.

Despite the ban imposed last fall, many students on the Clarion campus continued to smoke, and no student was cited for smoking when the ban was in effect. Now with the ban rescinded — at least for union members — Dugan said he's more than happy to meet with administrators to help find a permanent solution that could accommodate everyone on campus.

"We'd love more than nothing to sit down and say we're willing to work with you, and we just want the same rights as anyone else," he said.

While Marshall said there will always be locations where people cannot smoke outdoors on campus, such as directly in front of buildings, he said officials are looking to designate fringe areas of the campus and sidewalks along campus thoroughfares as acceptable outdoor smoking areas.

Administrators have already been talking with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees — which represents about 4,000 clerical and maintenance workers in the state school system — to strike a deal. But they don't want to stop there.

"The whole goal of this is to protect the health and welfare of our campus population," Marshall said. "At this point what our next step will be is to sit down with everybody. Hopefully APSCUF will come to the table."

State Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, who worked for more than 15 years to help pass the Clean Indoor Air Act, said though his law regulates only indoor areas, state schools and municipalities are free to regulate outdoor areas as they see fit.

"That's up to the university to decide that — what's best for their students," he said. "But I applaud them for their effort. I think it's important for them to protect their students and the faculty."

Andrew Staub is a reporter for UWire.