The United Steel Workers are upset that Teck Mining Company has begun conducting random drug and alcohol tests for workers at the Coal Mountain mine near Sparwood, B.C.
“Our position is that this testing program is an invasion of workers’ privacy and their bodies,” said Alex Hanson, president of United Steelworkers Local 9346.
“They don’t have a good reason to do this. We have no indication that there is a massive drug or impairment problem at the site, which warrants a more invasive drug testing program.”
On Dec. 3, Teck Mining began random tests on workers at five mines in the Elk Valley in southeast B.C.
The testing began with some of the 3,500 coal miners and contractors being randomly selected and asked to provide a urine sample.
“The rationale behind the program is to deter employees from the use or misuse of alcohol or prescription drugs,” said Teck manager of community and aboriginal affairs Nic Milligan.
“We believe random testing is a significant deterrent to drug use. We are proceeding with the roll out of the drug testing policy because we believe it is important for achieving safety.”
The company started the random testing program in May 2012 at the Cardinal River mine near Hinton Alberta.
As a result, the United Steelworkers filed a grievance against Teck, which has been referred to arbitration.
The union also attempted to get an injunction on Nov. 25, but the arbitrator adjourned the hearing due to lack of time.
“We asked the company to get the legal aspects sorted out, before implementing the policy, but they said they won’t do it,” said Hanson.
“They said the testing program has to be implemented immediately to prevent a mining catastrophe.”
Teck already has a testing regime in place, which involves pre-employment screening, post-incident screening and probable cause testing.
“We believe they have enough testing in place to prevent people from being impaired on site,” Hanson said. “The safety record backs this up. Random drug testing crosses the line to a guilty until proven innocent culture and goes beyond that into people’s medicinal cabinet.”
According to Hanson, the new testing regime will require workers to prove they are not abusing their own medication to a third party or company approved doctor.
“We have had most of our members reject this idea,” he said. “People who work up here aren’t alcoholics or drug abusers. So, they are upset that they are being treated like they are.”
Hanson argued that this approach by Teck Mining will have a destructive impact on trust at the worksite and the employee-employer relationship.
“We believe the new policy strikes a fair balance between privacy rights and the rights of workers to have a safe workplace,” he said.
“We are confident the policy will get wide support. We are committed to open and continuing dialogue with the union, as we work through these issues.”
Hanson said the timing of Teck’s new testing program is questionable because the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld an injunction in December to temporarily stop the random drug testing of Suncor employees in Fort McMurray.
In this case, an arbitrator was appointed to mediate the grievance by the Communications Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Local 707.
The disagreement between the CEP and Suncor involves an announcement by the company on June 29 that union members would be required to participate in a Drug and Alcohol Risk Reduction Pilot Project.
The two-year initiative, which was scheduled to begin on Oct. 15, includes random workplace drug and alcohol testing for union members and contractors working in safety-sensitive or specified positions.
However, the Alberta Court of Appeal made a decision on Nov. 28, in which two of three judges on a panel upheld an injunction that prohibits Suncor from testing employees without cause.
The ruling means random drug testing can’t take place before the grievance goes through arbitration under the procedure in the collective agreement.
In addition, the Supreme Court of Canada heard a similar case on Dec. 7, which involves the CEP union and Irving Pulp and Paper in New Brunswick.
The company started a program in 2006 to have mandatory Breathalyzer tests for employees to detect alcohol use in the workplace.
The CEP are taking the position that the future of random testing in Alberta will be determined by the decision of arbitration as well as a decision of the Supreme Court.