Thursday, May 1, 2008

Drug Abuse in Construction & The Role of Union Leadership

"A construction work site is no place for an alcohol- or drug-impaired worker," says LI UNA General President Terence M. O'Sullivan. "To limit this risk and, also, to ensure that workers who need help get it, the Laborers support efforts to establish comprehensive drug-free workplace programs in the construction industry."


Union stewards, general members, & senior management benefit from training on the many manifestations of substance misuse in the workplace, and their impact on working people and their children, contractors, insurers, and owners. Avitar's novel approach to workplace substance abuse management can assist in providing a framework of knowledge as well as implementation monitoring tools.

Joint development of the training curriculum, drug policy, and testing programs, would, however, require the direct involvement of union management. While Avitar can supply the technical components, to gain organization-wide commitment requires high level of participation and support of union leadership. Arguably, this leadership has been lacking in specific cases.

Unions would benefit by working with contractors, owners, insurers, and innovative drug-free workplace service providers to establish comprehensive drug-free workplace policies that include an education component to demonstrate their commitment to a drug-free workplace, support random testing via observed specimen collection, and provide employee assistance programs.

Random testing via oral is convenient, effective, non-invasive, and targets "on-the-job" drug misuse. Unlike traditional urine-based testing, oral fluid testing;

1. deters substance misuse
2. reduces accidents, workers comp claims and,
2. improves workforce image and quality.

While Construction Union may be aware of the unresolved, and epidemic problem of substance abuse in the construction sector, they may not be aware that a solution exists and the importance of their playing a leading role in mitigating the issue.

Substance abuse diminishes the ability of unions to build membership and mobilize current members.
- It erodes self-esteem and autonomy and undermines union participation, power, and leadership.
- It damages the solidarity of the union community and weakens its ability to withstand employer "attacks".

1. Unfortunately many contractors, owners, and insurers view unions as an impediment to resolution of the substance abuse in the construction sector. The lack of a comprehensive and effective occupational drug-free workplace approach by Unions contributes ineffective, ad-hoc industry practices. Similarly, the AFL-CIO program requiring urine testing and specific vendors, even further delays positive, pro-active change.

2. Unions must be proactive in efforts to deter the abuse of controlled substances and alcohol on construction sites. Laborers, management, and all related constituencies would benefit by developing and negotiating a drug and alcohol testing template programs for all contractors / owners / insurers.

3. A comprehensive drug-free workplace program MUST include:
random drug testing (via observed collection - traditional urine-based testing is relatively ineffective),
education, and

Measurement is crucial to the recognition, treatment, and prevention of substance abuse related occupational injuries, and other negative impacts. Deterrence and identification of substance abuse benefits the individuals, their immediate coworkers, workers throughout the industry, and others exposed to the negative impacts of substance misuse. (insurers, owners, contractors, public).

4. What union members do away from work is a private affair as long as they aren't impaired when reporting to work, however, traditional urine drug testing is contrary to this notion. Neither unions nor employers should not be allowed to dictate behaviors while away from work.

5. Deterrence is the goal, however, detection and assitance are true benefits.
Union MAP's (member assistance programs) are underutilized (not used 60% of the time). MAPs serve members as well as health & MMwelfare funds, contractors, owners, alike.
- MAPs help laborers & families access to assistance most needed for personal problems/issues
- MAPs control costs (lack of care created costs far exceeding MAP cost).
Labor organizations can only offer assistance to their members on a variety of health, welfare, and safety issues, including substance use disorders, only if aware of the problem.

Sources and Additional Information:

1. 50% of abuse detected now involves prescription drugs, esp. pain relievers. The abuse / misuse of many popular prescription pain releivers is not tested via traditional DOT-based urine testing.

2. While approximately 15%- 20% of construction workers abuse drugs, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics survey significantly underestimate the incidence of work related injuries and illnesses. The United States does not have a comprehensive national surveillance system for occupational injuries and illnesses. Lacking this system, major sources of US occupational health data include the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) annual survey of occupational injuries and illnesses, workers' compensation records, and physician reporting systems. Data produced by these systems have been described as fragmentary, unreliable, and inconsistent. Moreover, they have been shown to underestimate the incidence of workrelated injuries, illnesses, and even fatalities by as much as several hundred percent. (Occupational injury and illness surveillance: Conceptual filters explain underreporting; Azaroff, Lenore S; Levenstein, Charles; Wegman, David H American Journal of Public Health 09-01-2002 )

3. 77% of adults with substance abuse disorders are employed - Results From the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings. DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 05-4062. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, September 2005, p. 72.

4. LIUNA MAPs save money - Detroit, first-quarter 2003 data indicate that the LAP saves the fund about $175,000 annually over the likely cost of service to members if no MAP existed. In Southern Illinois, drug expenditures for the first two quarters since MAP usage was mandated are running more than 50 percent below the previous year's average. In Massachusetts, since the MAP was established in 1991, the Fund has saved about $8.8 million in average length of service and per diem costs for in-patient care.

5. Substance use disorders affect people from all walks of life, workers & families. According to a 2005 Hazelden Foundation survey, more than 69 percent of employed people indicated that if a family member were struggling with abuse or addiction, it would negatively affect their ability to concentrate and be productive at work. In fact, 36 percent of people who are employed admitted that at least one of their coworkers had been distracted, less productive, or missed work because of alcohol/drug abuse or addiction within their family.

6. A key message for labor organizations to communicate to employers is that treatment for substance use disorders has substantial benefits for businesses. Reported job problems, including incomplete work, absenteeism, tardiness, work-related injuries, mistakes, and disagreements with supervisors, are cut by an average of 75 percent among employees who have received treatment for substance use disorders. Furthermore, treatment has a benefit-to-cost ratio of 7:1, with substance use disorder treatment costing $1,583 on average and having a monetary benefit to society of nearly $11,487.

7. Domestic violence is directly related to substance abuse. Despite the obvious importance of involving unions in domestic violence prevention with men, little works has been done is this area. This may reflect fears that unions would not be receptive to addressing domestic violence. Senior office holders within some unions have been hesitant to apply their leadership to this issue, for various reasons. Sometimes union leadership has not understood how widespread domestic violence is. Sometimes they have argued that it is a private matter best left to the couple affected. At other times they have expressed concern but felt pessimistic about their ability to do anything about it. And on other occasions they have felt torn between their desire to protect a worker from disciplinary action or job loss and their conviction that domestic violence is wrong.

- It is every employer's legal responsibility to ensure safety in the workplace. Domestic violence compromises the well-being, job performance, and productivity of valuable employees. Many of the attitudes and gender roles that increase men's risk of using domestic violence also predispose men to other high risk behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, workplace violence, or taking unnecessary safety risks to demonstrate "toughness" to peers.
- Domestic violence is a leading cause of workplace violence; it also creates safety and health risks to everyone in the workplace:
- Since almost one in four women is affected by domestic violence, we can make a conservative estimate that 10% of employees may be affected by domestic violence.
- 24% of abused women said they were either late or missed days of work due to abuse
- 54% of abused women missed up to three full days of work per month.
- 94% of corporate security directors surveyed rank domestic violence as a high security problem at their company.
- Violence against women weakens unions and diminishes their ability to build membership or mobilize current members.
- Domestic violence is a safety and health issue for all members since perpetrators often stalk and harass women at their workplace, possibly jeopardizing co-workers as well. Additionally, domestic violence is a work/family issue, since it has devastating economic and personal consequences for the family.

8. Most union members are in support of drug testing (Discriminating characteristics of union members' attitudes toward drug testing in the workplace, Journal of Labor Research, 2007.)

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