BOCA RATON, FL – The Boca Raton firefighters’ union wants the city to butt out of firefighters’ smoking habits.
After 24 years of contract prohibitions against firefighters using tobacco — on or off the job — Boca Raton’s fire union wants to change the contract so they can light up without consequences.
Currently, firefighters who use tobacco can be fired.
Union officials say they want to bring the firefighters’ contract more in line with the requirements for firefighter certification under Florida law.
State law requires that new firefighter hires be tobacco-free for at least a year before hiring, but the law is silent on what happens after they’re hired.
The Boca union’s proposed change that would affect 186 unionized firefighters is among the outstanding issues that led the city last week to declare an impasse in its negotiations with Boca Raton’s public safety unions.
John Luca, Boca’s current fire union president and one of the contract negotiators, referred questions about the current contract to the union lawyer, Mark Floyd.
Floyd acknowledged that tobacco use “is one of many issues,” but didn’t comment further.
No-smoking policies at workplaces extend beyond firehouses, and are becoming more the norm among all kinds of employers, experts say.
Penny Morey, a Boca-based human resources consultant for more than 25 years, has watched as companies have over the years moved tobacco out of buildings, off company property and outside company cars, she said.
Many have adopted policies that say smokers need not apply, she said. And other companies offer incentives for smokers to quit.
“It’s been going on for many years,” Morey said. “More and more companies are becoming more and more strident about non-smoking policies.”
In Boca Raton, the firefighter-smoking issue baffled Jerry Cochrane, a former Boca fire union president.
The former battalion chief, who worked for the city for nearly 38 years, said both the city and the union agreed on the wisdom of prohibiting tobacco use back in 1990.
“We realized the need for it,” he said. “Why they would want to go back on that puzzled me to say the least.
“Why would you advocate something that you know is going to cause major, long-term impact on the cost of health insurance as well as the health of the people you represent?” he added.
The Boca Raton firefighters’ union contract is more stringent on tobacco use than other firefighter contracts in the area.
The contracts for firefighters in Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Palm Beach County don’t say anything about tobacco use after hiring.
The contract for other unionized Boca city employees, such as water-plant and road-maintenance workers, is even more strict. Their contract requires all employees hired after Oct. 1, 1993, to abstain from smoking, both on and off duty, and employees also must not smoke for a year before they’re hired.
And “failure to comply with this provision shall result in dismissal,” it says.
Staying tobacco-free gives firefighters additional protection with respect to disability payments if they were to be diagnosed with tuberculosis, heart disease or high-blood pressure. If a nonsmoking firefighter contracts those illnesses, it is presumed to be a result of working in the line of a duty, according to state laws.
From The Sun-Sentinel