Ray Everett is in a quandary. He’s just had quite a workout involving some heavy lifting, which is often required in his job in Facilities Management, and he could use a smoke.
He’s got one of two choices: Go to his car and light up—and risk a five-day unpaid suspension. Or go to his car for a short drive off campus—and risk losing his parking spot and being late to clock back in, creating another issue that could result in disciplinary action.
Washtenaw Community College promotes itself as “a smoke-free” campus, and Everett’s boss takes that seriously. Smokers in other groups—students, faculty and staff—face different penalties for violating the policy.
“We are a smoke-free campus,” said WCC President Larry Whitworth. “Although we try to be flexible, we want our students starting lifelong habits that are positive. Employers are not interested in hiring smokers.
We expect our employees to abide by the rules and be a positive influence.”
Campus Safety and Security (CSS) can and will cite those who violate the policy.
“There is one policy in place for everyone,” said Ron Schebil, CSS director. “Students who violate the policy are given a written warning notice and continuous violations can lead to students being prevented from registering for future classes at WCC.”
There are also guidelines in place to deal with most of the college’s employees busted for lighting up.
“Violations of the non-smoking policy by staff and faculty are seen as a violation of the employee policy and it would be handled through progressive discipline,” said Doug Kruzel, associate vice president for Human Resources. “Progressive discipline means that an employee who violates the policy would first receive a verbal warning; a second violation can result in a written warning and a third or subsequent violation could lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination.”
To date no one has been suspended or fired as a result of violating the non-smoking policy, Kruzel said.
But it’s just a matter of time before someone is, said those who work for Facilities Management. They’re uneasy about it, and Everett said it’s starting to affect morale.
But does the college single out these hourly employees differently than other workers?
As it turns out, the collective bargaining agreements between WCC and unions representing both faculty and office staff specifies that “progressive discipline” shall be used if it becomes necessary to discipline a covered employee.
The collective bargaining agreement between the college and AFSCME Local 1921—Everett’s union that represents more than 60 grounds and janitorial workers—does not contain language requiring such progressive discipline. So when workers received an e-mail memo from Damon Flowers, associate vice president for Facilities Development and Operations saying they no longer will be allowed to smoke on campus—even in their personal vehicles—he was within his bounds of authority, however fair or unfair it seemed.
The disciplinary guidelines for Facilities employees are the responsibility of that division’s supervisor, Whitworth explained.
“Everybody smokes at will,” said Everett, 57, a lifelong smoker who has tried in myriad ways to quit. “All we want is a spot, a designated area where we can go to, out of the way but still on campus.”
The issue is non-negotiable, Flowers said.
“We are past the talking stage,” Flowers said. “The board policy is no smoking on campus. Smoking in personal vehicles was one interpretation, but it was causing interruptions in workflow.
“Leaving campus is disruptive and any place on campus is still on campus so that idea was rejected.”
Everett believes the disciplinary measures Flowers is threatening is harsh and serves no one.
“Why not offer counseling over disciplinary action?” Everett asked.
Whitworth believes that employees should be able to control their smoking urges for the eight hours they are at work.
“Is it unfair to expect people to be concerned about their own health?” Whitworth asked.
But experts confirm that while quitting nicotine forever is difficult, refraining from smoking for short periods of time is not impossible – with a little help.
“Because of nicotine replacement products that are available, cravings will exist but smokers won’t experience withdrawal,” said Sally K. Guthrie, associate professor at the University of Michigan’s College of Pharmacy. “It’s extremely hard to discontinue the use of nicotine. Even though withdrawal itself is dangerous, it doesn’t last long in comparison to the cravings which can continue for years.”
Meantime, Flowers said his department’s new policy is a hit among some workers.
“Several non-smoking employees have expressed that they are grateful for the policy,” he said. “And they say it’s about time.”