Unions & Organized Labor

There is a natural alliance between unions and smokefree advocates: both are charged with improving workers' health through education and policy initiatives. Preventing worksite health and safety problems is a paramount concern for unions.

Read our Smokefree Air is a Union Issue for guidance on working in partnership with organized labor in support of healthier, smokefree worksites.

Workers' unions are political bodies that smokefree advocates should reach out to when forming smokefree coalitions. Unions are strong, politically savvy advocates for safer workplaces, and they are well-positioned to help in reducing smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.

In addition, the "bottom-up" decision-making structure of unions leads to programs that cover the views and concerns of workers, which may include secondhand smoke exposure, as well as a variety of other public health issues.


Smokefree News

Mitchell, R.J.; Weisman, S.R.; Jones, R.M.; Erickson, D., "The role of labor organizations in tobacco control: what do unionized workers think?," American Journal of Health Promotion 23(3): 182-186, January 2009.

CONCLUSIONS: Most unionized workers were aware of the health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke and supported union bargaining for restrictions on workplace smoking and cessation programs, although few workers supported their unions taking the lead in initiating worksite smoking policies. Results suggest that campaigns to promote smoke-free worksites should be tailored to unionized workers, and further collaborations with labor unions to promote policy change are needed.

On April 18, 2007, the workers union in Alberta, Canada, known as the Alberta Federation of Workers, sent out the following press release, urging the government to ban smoking in all workplaces in the province of Alberta, in Canada.

AFL Joins Campaign for Province-Wide Smoking Ban
Worker Safety at Risk from Second-hand Smoke

EDMONTON, April 18 /CNW/ - The AFL joined with Action on Smoking and Health, Alberta Cancer Board and the Alberta Chamber of Commerce today to launch a campaign to urge the Alberta government to implement a province-wide smoking ban in all workplaces.

"For us smoking in the workplace is an occupational health and safety issue," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "Forcing workers in restaurants, bars and casinos to be exposed to high levels of second-hand smoke runs counter to basic health and safety practice."

"Tobacco smoke contains over 50 known carcinogens, including benzene, formaldehyde, cadmium and lead," observes McGowan. "If workers in bars were being exposed to coal dust at the levels they inhale second-hand smoke, the government would have put a stop to it. Had bingo workers been exposed to asbestos at these levels, the government would have cracked down."

"They need to act now to eliminate exposure to tobacco smoke."

McGowan points out that food and beverage workers have three to six times more exposure to second hand smoke than other workers. As a result, non-smoking workers in the food service industry have a 50% greater risk of cancer than other non-smokers. "This is why we must act," urges McGowan.

"We will be mobilizing our members to contact their MLA in the next few weeks demanding a province-wide smoking ban," says McGowan. "We are one of only two provinces without one. Let's hope we don't end up being the last province without a complete ban."