Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Unions Wrong About Drug Testing

Why is drug testing subject to collective bargaining?

The Massachusetts Joint Labor-Management Committee has taken jurisdiction of the contract dispute between the City of Boston and the firefighters’ union (Local 718). However, this step does not mean that mandatory alcohol and drug testing is any closer to becoming a reality in the Boston Fire Department.

The president of the state firefighters’ union has argued that the Joint Labor-Management Committee cannot consider drug testing in arbitration.

That view should not prevail, as this contract must begin the effort to break through the imbedded culture of the Fire Department by including basic management reform measures and mandatory drug testing.

Clearly, it is in the broader interest of the Commonwealth that all uniformed public safety employees be required to annually undergo standard drug and alcohol testing.
While this contract may be settled before such change, drug testing should be a state public safety requirement, not subject to local negotiations.

Following a tragic restaurant fire in West Roxbury in August, in which two firefighters died, city officials in early October presented to Local 718 a comprehensive alcohol and drug testing policy for negotiation. The union has yet to respond in writing to the city’s proposal.

The Menino administration had put drug testing on the table in contract negotiations with Local 718 in 1999 !!!!!, and 2004 but no agreement was reached.

Union resistance and the city’s desire to secure other needed management reforms in the Fire Department at a reasonable cost are why drug testing has not been yet approved.

The firefighters’ union maintains that the Joint Labor-Management Committee cannot consider drug testing as an issue for arbitration in the Boston dispute because the city did not list drug testing in its petition filed last August. The union would prefer to negotiate this matter separately with the city for a reported 21 percent salary increase rather than have the Joint Labor-Management Committee require drug testing in an arbitration decision.

The union’s position is not supported by state law or the Joint Labor-Management Committee’s case history, which shows several examples of decisions rendered in fire union cases that include issues not listed in the initial petitions, including drug testing.

Local 718 has high expectations for a new contract with drug testing and points to the 1998 police contract that provided for drug testing and also accepted the Quinn Bill. However, in that contract, the police accepted no salary increases in fiscal 2001 and fiscal 2002 when firefighters received 4 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.

Also, drug testing was considered innovative nine years ago and not the norm that it is today. Indeed, random alcohol and drug testing is more common in major urban fire departments around the country, including Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

The contract with Local 718 should include mandatory random alcohol and drug testing, but if it does not include other significant reform measures at a cost consistent with the recently negotiated public safety contracts, it should not be approved.

The stakes are too high for the welfare of the public and firefighters to settle for small incremental change in this contract.

Orignal Source: Boston Globe

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