The United Steelworkers Local 9346 has been denied a temporary order to stop Teck from performing random drug and alcohol tests on workers at the Elk Valley mines.
In a May 9 decision, arbitrator Colin Taylor found that Teck could continue to carry out drug and alcohol tests on its employees while a grievance goes through arbitration.
“I have concluded that drug and alcohol testing are more amenable to being compensated in damages, whereas the risk of industrial accident carries greater potential for irreparable harm,” Taylor said in the decision.
For several years, Teck has conducted drug and alcohol tests on new employees entering the workplace, and post-incident tests where it believes drugs or alcohol may be a factor.
Now Teck has been given permission to continue random tests on its employees, while a dispute filed by the United Steelworkers in the B.C. Supreme Court goes through adjudication.
“We’re currently reviewing the arbitrator’s decision in its entirety but in general we’re pleased with the decision to dismiss this interim application,” said Nic Milligan, Manager of Community and Aboriginal Affairs at Teck’s coal operations.
“We strongly believe that taking measures to eliminate the use of illegal drugs and the misuse of alcohol or prescription drugs that can affect at work performance and safety is an important way we can achieve our vision of everyone going home safe and healthy every day.
“Research has shown that random drug and alcohol testing is an effective way to deter the use of illegal drugs and the misuse of alcohol or prescription drugs, thereby reducing safety incidents in the workplace.”
But Alex Hanson, president of the United Steelworkers Local 9346, said Teck is flying in the face of the law.
“As far as I know, random drug testing has not been made legal in Canada anywhere at this point. So we’re not sure why this has taken place here,” he said.
“They haven’t changed the law through the legal system. They’ve just declared themselves above the law and began implementation of random drug testing, and for whatever reason we haven’t been granted an injunction.”
Hanson made it clear that United Steelworkers doesn’t endorse illicit drugs.
“The union does not support the use of illegal drugs or in any way condone showing up to work under the influence of any sort of mind altering substance or alcohol, or putting people’s lives in danger at all. That is not what this argument is about,” he said.
“This argument is about whether or not the company can gain access to our private lives, and especially our medical information through our prescription drug information, for the sales pitch of keeping us safe.”
Hanson said that Teck’s Elk Valley operations have a good record for safety.
“2012 at Elkview Operations was the safest year yet,” he said. “Not to mention, B Crew at Elkview Operations just went 10 years LTI free – which is 10 years without a lost time (incident). That’s in the record books somewhere – could be a world record.”