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Union's fight against random drug testing in Elk Valley mines at a standstill

The coal miners’ union representing Teck workers is furious that the company has been allowed to implement random drug tests on its members, while an arbitrator has blocked their attempt to bring their case before the B.C. Supreme Court.

After an unsuccessful hearing with an arbitrator, the union representing employees at Teck's open pit mines filed a petition at the Vancouver courthouse last month but the arbitratorblocked it from getting to court. Alex Hanson, president of United Steelworkers Local 9346, said the case would now be on hold until mid February.

“In the mean time, the company is able to proceed with their random drug testing by default,” said Hanson.

“We tried to move our case into the courts to get things moving. It was a long shot and unfortunately now we are back to arbitration.”

The testing began at five mines in the Elk Valley last week as some of the 3,500 coal miners and contractors were randomly selected for testing as they arrived at work.

Manager of Community and Aboriginal Affairs at Teck, Nic Milligan, said it is about safety.

“We take our obligation to provide the safest possible workplace for our employees very seriously and believe that taking measures to eliminate the adverse effects of drug and alcohol use is an important way we can achieve our vision of everyone going home safe and healthy every day,” he said.

“Employees that test positive in a test are given the opportunity to seek treatment paid for by Teck.””

Milligan said dozens of job applicants go through the same process and test positive for drugs every year.

But the union said it is a violation of privacy and they plan to seek compensation.

“We are not trying to defend someone showing up to work on crack cocaine,” said Hanson. “But this random testing is very invasive, and they are not just detecting illegal drugs.

“Someone might test positive for prescription medications, and then they are required to reveal their medical histories to the company doctor. This violates a worker’s right to privacy.”

Milligan said the company has taken the employees’ rights into account in carrying out the program.

“We take privacy rights seriously, but we think the random program creates a reasonable balance between privacy and the safety of all our workers.

“We are committed to keeping an open dialogue with union representatives.”

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