Toronto Transit Commission unveils controversial drug and alcohol testing plan

Proposed fitness-for-duty policy limits random testing to those in safety-sensitive positions but union questions its necessity and raises privacy concerns

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has proposed a new plan that involves drug and alcohol testing of employees. Though it is scaled back somewhat from its original plan that included random testing for all employees, the union has still expressed adamant opposition to the proposed policy.

The TTC felt the need to address the effects of employee drug and alcohol abuse on the safety of passengers and employees by developing a fitness-for-duty policy that included random testing of workers and managers in safety-sensitive positions through various technologies, including facial and retina scans, breathalyzers and urinalysis. The union said random testing would violate the privacy of workers and vowed to fight it.

TTC commissioners finalized a report on the proposed policy, which stated the importance of “a safe workplace and the safe operation of a public transit system.” The report went on to describe “a number of alcohol and/or drug related incidents involving TTC employees” in the past three years, including a recent incident in which a bus driver was charged with drunk driving while on duty. The report also brought up the April 2007 death of 38-year-old maintenance worker Tony Almeida, who was crushed by the flatbed work car he was driving when it crashed into the wall of a subway tunnel. Though lax safety procedures were blamed for the incident, an investigation found Almeida had smoked marijuana at some point before it happened.

The TTC said the proposed policy would involve different elements in addition to the testing, including encouragement for employees to seek assistance before there’s a problem. The focus would be on prevention and deterrence, rather than catching employees in the act.

The proposed policy allows for testing of employees and managers in safety-sensitive positions as well as “designated executive positions” in the following situations:

•Reasonable cause, when there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect an employee is under the influence of alcohol or drugs

•Post incident, when an employee contributes to a serious incident requiring an investigation

•An applicant for a safety-sensitive position

•Post violation, where an employee returns to duty after a past violation to deter further violations

•Post treatment, for employees who have completed rehabilitation and shouldn’t be using drugs or alcohol at all

•Random testing for “the specified higher risk positions” handled by an independent third party.

Employees in any position would be tested in post violation and post treatment situations.

The report indicated alcohol testing would be done with a breathalyzer, random drug testing would be with oral fluid tests and drug testing for other situations would be through urinalysis.

The union strongly disagreed with the proposal, though its opposition lessed after random testing was limited to safety-sensitive positions. It still argued there wasn’t really a problem and the TTC was deflecting blame from its failure to protect its workers. It said Almeida’s death shouldn’t be used as a justification for the policy as the investigation determined proper safety procedures hadn’t been followed and the crash was caused by a moveable work platform that hadn’t been properly retracted. The TTC was fined $250,000 for health and safety negligence and Almeida was not responsible. The union also said marijuana can be detected in the blood for weeks after its use and it was “speculative at best” that he was high at the time of the crash.

The union also said the cost of implementing the proposal didn’t make sense, as there has never been a fatality caused by employee impairment in 109 years. Only 39 employees since 2006 had been found to be impaired on the job, or one worker in every 150,000 shifts.

“How many millions of dollars would this testing program cost?” union president Bob Kinnear asked at the commission meeting. “How would it reduce the number of people killed by impaired TTC workers from the present figure of zero?”

The union also said the proposed policy was a violation of employee privacy, it was degrading for employees to submit to urine tests and unfair unless every single public official who makes decisions on public health and safety was randomly tested. It argued the police have the right and professionalism to test and charge TTC drivers, not TTC management.

“We trust the police and have confidence in their judgment, their professionalism and their fairness,” Kinnear said. “We do not have that confidence in TTC management and I have difficulty imagining that we would gain that confidence anytime soon.”

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