The nation's first law designed to protect workers from eyestrain and other complaints associated with long-term use of computer terminals could serve as a model for other measures, proponents say.
"There's no doubt that this will greatly encourage many labor groups to put this on the top of their legislative agendas," said Louis Sle-sin, editor of VDT News, a New York-based industry newsletter that estimates 15 million workers use computers nationwide.The law was enacted Tuesday by a 13-5 vote of the 18-member Suffolk County Legislature, one vote more than was needed to override County Executive Patrick Halpin's veto. Halpin had predicted the measure would turn business away.
"Opposition to this bill was based on overreaction," said legislator Gregory Blass. "We've heard the doom and gloom from business in the past," when bottle-deposit and anti-smoking bills were enacted.
"I'm ecstatic," said Jan Pierce, vice president of Communications Workers of America, which supported the measure. "The Legislature stood up to big business and held its ground."
AFL-CIO officials said they would work to enact similar legislation in Erie, Albany and Rockland counties, where they said government leaders have been sympathetic to worker-protection laws.
Statewide legislation is pending in at least six states, including New York and Connecticut.
Under the law, in six months businesses in the Long Island county with more than 20 visual display terminals will have to provide special treatment for workers who spend more than 26 hours a week in front of the computer screens:
The workers must have 15-minute breaks or a new work assignment after three hours with a video display terminal.
The employer must pay 80 percent of the cost of annual eye exams and any eyeglasses that are needed.
In addition, any equipment purchased after next year must have such features as non-glare screens, adjustable desks and five-legged chairs.
The bill was written in response to worker complaints of eyestrain, muscle aches and other ill effects from long-term VDT use.
However, Halpin predicted after the vote that the law "will cost Suffolk many good high-tech jobs." He vowed to try "to implement the law so it will have minimal impact on the business community."
James LaRocca, president of the Long Island Association, a business group, predicted the loss of more than 3,000 jobs in pending expansion and relocation deals.
"We're definitely not expanding into Suffolk," said Thomas J. Cala-brese, general manager of Long Island customer service for New York Telephone, which employs 2,000 terminal operators in the county.