Trade Unions OK Random Drug Testing

Trade Unions OK Random Drug Testing
Posted by FoM on November 19, 1999 at 09:00:56 PT
By Michele Derus of the Journal Sentinel staff
Source: Journal Sentinel 
Random drug testing, a familiar routine for commercial airline pilots and truck drivers, will begin for skilled construction trades workers in the Milwaukee area on Jan. 1 in a union-management program billed as a national model.
Under the plan, each year 15% of union workers in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties would be subject to unannounced tests for both alcohol and illegal drugs, union and management officials confirmed Thursday.The agreement affects workers on both public and private construction projects and covers trade unions of carpenters, cement masons, pile drivers, bricklayers and building laborers.The deal is the first in Wisconsin and one of only a handful nationally. It capped more than a decade of on-and-off negotiating, union and management sources said. In that time, they said, drug-testing grew more accurate, the nation lost tolerance for two-martini or shot-and-beer lunches, company substance abuse policies grew more humane and workers acknowledged the toll that inebriated colleagues exacted."Random drug-testing is a big thing for us. There's some presumption of guilt. But at this point, I'd say 95 percent of our membership is behind this," said Dennis Penkalski, business manager for the Milwaukee and Southern Wisconsin District Council of Carpenters in Pewaukee. "They say, 'I don't want to work next to someone who's on drugs or who's drunk.' "Penkalski, who was the unions' negotiator for the policy, said confidentiality was preserved under the plan. Only the person tested, the union and the employer will know the results. The plan also protects the jobs of workers who test positive but receive authorized treatment.Managers May Be Tested: About 7,500 workers will be subject to the split-sample urine, blood and breath tests. If the tests reveal above-admissible limits, the policy requires up to 30 days of unpaid leave for substance abuse treatment, said Ed Hayden, executive vice president of Allied Construction Employers Association in Brookfield.Employers likely will extend the testing to management and non-union staffers, if they haven't already, noted Dan Burazin, safety director for Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee, which intends to market the program nationwide."It would be hypocritical if they didn't," Burazin said. "The issue here is workplace safety. My personal opinion is that accidents will come down. And we'll be able to set ourselves apart from the rest of the construction industry in one big way."Construction is a dangerous business, statistics from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration show.In 1997, there were 9.9 injuries per 100 full-time construction workers, about 45% more than the 6.6 accident incidence for private workers in general, OSHA figures show. Among carpenters and masons, it was even worse - 12.1 and 10.3 accidents per 100 full-time workers, respectively."With these tests, we should be able to reduce that by a third," Hayden said.Such a dramatic change isn't unheard of, said Paul C. Hingtgen, vice president of underwriting and risk management services at United Heartland Inc. in West Allis.His company has 50 corporate clients who developed workplace safety programs, including pre-employment, reasonable cause and post-injury drug testing.In a year's time, 68% of those clients saw a decline of at least 40% in real claims - injuries involving medical bills, Hingtgen said. Within that same group, 31% cut real claims a whopping 70%, he said."Workplace safety is a quiver full of arrows - people observe safety rules, wear protective equipment, get drug tests. Drug testing is just another arrow in the quiver - but it's a very big arrow," he said.Some Testing Done Now: Random drug testing is rare in the American workplace, Hingtgen said, "but I support it." It's a given for commercial airline pilots and truckers, nuclear industry workers and law enforcement personnel. U.S. Department of Transportation limits are stricter on alcohol, with a blood alcohol concentration limit of only 0.04, he noted.Construction trade workers already submit to drug and alcohol screening as new hires, after a job-site accident or with evidence of (and two witnesses to) suspected inebriation. Contractors on major construction projects, including Miller Park, the Midwest Express Center and the Milwaukee Art Museum, require drug tests before a new worker is allowed on the site, union officials said, even though many workers dislike the process.Journeyman carpenter Chuck Dolphin, working at the convention job site Thursday, called random drug-tests "an infringement of my Constitutional rights. I don't mind it if there's an accident - I'll get tested and I have been tested. But this is too much."Industrywide random tests might be better than the present system of requiring tests on major projects, sometimes several in the same year, noted drywall finisher Don Barnekow."This one tests, then that one tests - and it's all on my time. That's crap. It's not fair," Barnekow said.Hayden of the construction employers' association said testing needed to be industrywide."Because of our high injury rates, and the dangerous nature of the work we do, we need to have everybody on board. It's not just field people who have substance abuse problems. It's also office workers and others," he said.Despite the grumbling, Hayden thinks the sampling cup will be a staple in the future."It used to be I'd leave my office at 4, go by a job site and see people standing around with cans of beer in their hands. Now that's not good for your public image."Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Nov. 19, 1999. Related Article:New ACLU Report Debunks Workplace Urine Testing - 9/04/99
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