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Collective Bargaining Rights and Smoke-Free Workplace Laws

posted on Thu, Nov 1 2012 12:00 am by Mid-States Region

The Network received a request from a public health advocate who was concerned about the impact of a state ballot proposal on current smoke-free workplace laws. The advocate requested assistance in analyzing the potential effect of certain provisions of the proposal which would amend the constitution in the requester’s state to protect collective bargaining rights of public and private workers. The proposal included provisions to invalidate future state or local laws that limit the capability of workers to bargain collectively as well as override state laws that regulate hours and conditions of employment, if such regulations conflict with collective bargaining agreements. The requester was specifically concerned about the section of the proposal which stated that any law relating to hours and conditions of employment could be challenged if it limited collective bargaining. Although current statutes prohibit smoking in the workplace, it has historically been a subject of collective bargaining. The requester was concerned that opponents to the smoke-free laws might seek to use the constitutional amendment to weaken or repeal the law.

The Network researched the question and provided an attorney general’s opinion concerning the potential impact of the proposal on health and safety laws, along with a number of other resources. The Network also included information on opinions by the state’s appellate and supreme courts concerning challenges to the inclusion of this and other proposals on the state’s ballot. The appellate court opinion, affirmed by the state’s Supreme Court, upheld the proposal’s inclusion on the ballot. The appellate court’s opinion included dicta – that the proposal’s collective bargaining requirement does not divest the legislature’s power to enact law to protect the public – which  could have been useful in defending against  a legal  challenge to smoke-free laws. Ultimately, however, the proposal did not pass.

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