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Resolutions & Amendments

26th International Convention - San Francisco, CA (1984)

Video Display Terminals and Related Computer Equipment

Resolution No. 113
26th International Convention
June 18-22, 1984
San Francisco, CA


Ten million American workers operate video display terminals (VDTs). This number will continue to grow rapidly throughout the remainder of this century. The jobs of clerical workers will be the most obviously affected by VDTs, but so will the jobs of professionals and many blue-collar workers; and


Many public and non-profit employers, even in an era of cutbacks and retrenchment, are investing heavily in purchasing VDTs and related equipment. Spending in this sector can be expected to rapidly increase as government revenues recover and as the price of computer equipment continues to fall. Often, this equipment is purchased with little or no understanding of the impact of this new technology on working conditions and the safety and health of employees; and


Numerous studies have confirmed that many VDT operators suffer eyestrain, headaches, and muscular ailments as a result of their work on VDTs. Many of the most seriously affected have sought medical attention for their deteriorating vision and for other injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and some VDT operators have claimed and received worker's compensation for their injuries. Currently, studies are under way to determine the role played by VDT operation in the incidence of birth defects and miscarriages following scattered reports of a higher-than-expected incidence of problem pregnancies in some workplaces; and


Problems associated with VDTs can result not only from the design of the equipment itself, but also from the way in which the equipment is used. The best equipment combined with the best in auxiliary equipment such as chairs, tables, and proper office lighting, cannot overcome the stress and discomfort caused by sitting at the terminal seven or more hours each day performing repetitious work, with output and work pace closely monitored and measured through the computer itself; and


VDTs and related computer equipment offer potential benefits to workers and the public when properly implemented. Jobs can be made more comfortable, workloads handled easier, skills and pay upgraded, and career ladders improved. Paperwork could be simplified with resources and time freed to expand and improve services. Experience has shown, however, that employers are insensitive to these possibilities. Too often, employers plan for the computer, not for the people using the computer; the new jobs can become more stressful, less skilled, more routine, and more dead end than before.


AFSCME supports the adoption of legislation, purchasing guidelines, and/or labor-management agreements regarding the purchase and implementation of VDTs and related computer equipment. Only through such measures will manufacturers be forced to provide as standard the equipment features that are necessary for safe and comfortable operation but that are available on only some kinds of equipment today. These features include: detachable keyboard, tiltable VDT screens, adjustable screen brightness, adjustable chairs, appropriate desks, appropriate office lighting. and effective shielding from all potentially harmful emissions of electromagnetic radiation; and


AFSCME will fight at the bargaining table and in other arenas for proper training, higher pay, job security, and career ladders for workers using VDTs. AFSCME will also fight for working conditions that reduce stress at the VDT workplace, including appropriate rest breaks, the mixing of VDT and non-VDT work, and prohibition of individual work monitoring. AFSCME supports requirements that employers consult with the union before the purchase of any new technology, and encourages joint labor-management committees to deal with the implementation problem. AFSCME supports the removal of pregnant workers from VDT's with no loss in status or pay, and AFSCME supports employer provided vision checks for VDT operators. The productivity gains made possible by the new equipment should be shared by the employees who are made more productive; and


AFSCME encourages further research into the potential hazards of VDT work and appropriate safeguards. The area of VDT radiation hazards should be particularly explored because of the many questions which have been raised but not conclusively answered.


Annette Garrett, President, Local 62
Betty Holland, Secretary, Local 62
Charles Smith, President, Local 2920
Annie Kuykendal, Secretary, Local 2920
Council 25
Detroit, Michigan

John P. Foster, President
Mary Hastings, Secretary
Council 14
St. Paul, Minnesota

Marion Porro, President and Delegate
Local 1930, Council 37
New, York, New York