A few weeks ago, we reported on a new labor agreement at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Baltimore. Most labor agreements in the federal government don’t contain ground breaking social policies.
But this agreement was different. It did not allow smoking on the agency’s campus in Baltimore. It didn’t consign smokers to a small stoop outside the main door; it didn’t put them in a building a few feet away from the door; it didn’t just try to discourage smoking. It literally banned all smoking at the facility.
This turn of events undoubtedly surprised some readers. It may be understandable that the Department of Health and Human Services would go after a policy like this since it is generally responsible for improving the health of Americans. But why would the union agree to it since it would undoubtedly have an adverse impact on those employees who smoke?
In reality, the union didn’t agree to it-at least not voluntarily. The Federal Service Impasses Panel dictated the final result after the parties reached an impasse in bargaining.
Here’s the latest though. While it is possible the agency didn’t really expect to get a no smoking ban when it went to the Panel, it apparently liked the result.
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson may have recognized a good thing when he saw it and the agency has jumped on it. So, effective in January, according to HHS, Secretary Thompson has announced that all HHS campuses will be tobacco-free. And, in offering a carrot along with the stick, all HHS employees who use tobacco will be eligible for participation in cessation programs.
In other words, after January 1st, employees in HHS will not be allowed to smoke in HHS buildings. As far as we can tell, this makes HHS the first agency to have an agency-wide smoking ban.
And, if a total ban on smoking isn’t enough to encourage employees to quit, the agency is also providing greater access to a smoking cessation program. If the employee’s health insurance does not cover cessation services, a new HHS program will provide medication as well as support in making these lifestyle changes.
No doubt there is work to be done in HHS before the smoking ban takes place in January. And it won’t apply to all HHS employees who may be covered by a labor contract with conflicting provisions and may not apply to some people in leased buildings.
But the agency head has taken a position; the position is consistent with the mission of the agency; the agency has the support of the Impasses Panel in a lead case; there is considerable support for the policy in an agency with a large number of non-smokers; and the bureaucracy is moving out to ban smoking wherever it can in HHS.
Will other agencies follow this lead? It is too early to tell but we wouldn’t be too surprised to see the General Services Administration gradually implement a more stringent smoking ban throughout government buildings if this attempt by HHS proves successful.