TribCo to charge workers $100-a-month tobacco fee
October 12, 2007
By Gregory Meyer
(Crain’s) — Long forced to steal a drag in the chill of Michigan Avenue, many of the smokers working inside Tribune Tower will face another indignity next year: a $100-per-month tobacco fee.
Tribune Co. employees in Chicago and across the country who use tobacco will be subject to the fee, which a company spokesman says is a way to “promote wellness among our employees.” The charge will be levied on top of employees’ shares of health care premiums. Those who complete a program to help them quit will see their fees waived.
For a company that’s watching its bottom line amid weakening newspaper advertising, it’s also a way to curb costs. The spokesman notes that the average American employee who smokes costs his or her employer thousands of dollars a year in medical expenses and lost productivity.
It’s not the first time Tribune has taken stern measures to curtail smoking. Famed Chicago Tribune Publisher Robert R. McCormick personally enforced the “No Smoking” signs he had posted throughout the tower, according to a biography by Richard Norton Smith. After legendary columnist and chain-smoker Mike Royko moved to the Tribune from the Chicago Sun-Times, his was the only office in the building where lighting up was tolerated.
Still, employees are burning.
“What are you going to do next? Say a guy who has history of heart disease has to pay more? Where’s it going to stop?” says Tony Judge, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 706, which represents Chicago Tribune truck drivers in Chicago.
The Web site of Editor & Publisher, a trade magazine, reported Thursday that at least two Teamster locals have filed grievances over the cost of the smoking program and another new initiative, which charges an employee $75 a month if his or her spouse picks Tribune’s health care plan instead of the plan at the spouse’s workplace.
Michael Mayo, a columnist at Tribune Co.’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper, wrote in his blog: “So much for the old stereotype of a fedora-wearing reporter pounding out copy on deadline, cigarette dangling from his mouth.”
Tribune employees enrolled in the company health plan will also be charged the $100 fee if their dependents smoke. The company spokesman said employees will be asked about their tobacco habits during open benefits enrollment for 2008, but won’t undergo more rigorous verification.
“It’s an honor-system program,” he said, adding, “We’re not trying to create a heavy-handed system that has employees reporting on each other.”