The United Steel workers Local 9346 has filed an appeal in front of the BC Court of Appeals on May 23 regarding the arbitrators decision to deny a temporary order to stop Teck from performing random drug and alcohol tests on workers at the Elk Valley mines.
On June 14, the Supreme Court ruled it was reasonable for a New Brunswick labour arbitration board to strike down a policy at an Irving Pulp & Paper Ltd. mill that forced all workers in “safety-sensitive positions” to undergo random alcohol tests, with about 10 per cent of the work force tested a year.
“The Supreme Court’s decision on the Irvine case explained that just being a safety sensitive work place does not equal reasonable cause,” said Alex Hanson, USW Local 9346 president.
“We’re going to the BC Court of Appeal because we don’t believe Teck has reasonable just cause for random testing. The ruling covers random alcohol testing and the Supreme Court made big generalizations for random drug testing. Alcohol testing can prove impairment yet drug testing only proves past usage. The BC Privacy laws were created to protect workers rights and prevent abuse.”
“The ruling in question does not deal with Teck’s operations,” said Chris Stannell, Senior Communications Specialist for Teck Resources Limited. “Teck places a high value on the safety of their employees and has developed a random testing that balances privacy rights with safety of employees in a safety sensitive work environment. We have carefully reviewed the Irving decision and the facts in our case are significantly different.”
Stannell continued, “We are working towards having our arbitration case heard as quickly as possible. We strongly believe that taking measures to eliminate potential misuse of drugs and alcohol 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.”
Hanson thinks Teck is not testing at Highland Copper mines in Kamloops or the smelter in Trail because “they are heavily unionized. I think they would refuse on mass and that would be the end of it. There is little turn over with the people who work there. There are more transient workers in the Elk Valley than in Kamloops. People are afraid they will lose their jobs if they refuse the random testing.”
“Teck strongly believes it’s very important to our safety culture. We have had positive tests. We do have employees who have tested positive and are currently in treatment right now at the expense of the company, ” said Nic Milligan, Teck Communications on CBC Radio’s Daybreak.
While Teck has stated their pre-employment screening had 39 failures in 2011 and over 29 in 2012 proves that their policies have merit, Hanson sees it differently.
“Teck’s first line of defense is working. They are catching people with pre-employment screening. Teck can test if there is signs of impairment displayed and can do post incident testing. Plus employees can report a coworker if impairment is suspected. There are multiple levels of screening already. Why does Teck need yet a fourth? The workers at these mine sites are highly trained with a high quality of skills. They don’t show up to work impaired and they don’t want to work with people who are impaired. Teck has not proven the need for this additional layer (of random drug testing).”
Allergy medications, such as Zantax, can be identified as an amphetamine during drug testing and that has Hanson concerned. “A number of false positives can be made requiring the employee to go to their doctor to prove their medication is prescribed before they can return to work. The potential for abuse by Teck is so great that’s this is a priority.”
“Teck’s random drug and alcohol testing program does not restrict the proper use of prescription medications,” said Stannell. “Teck is not provided with confidential medical information regarding employees. The program is administered independently by a third-party medical organization. When an employee receives a positive test result, an investigation is undertaken by the third-party medical organization, and not by Teck. While this process is underway, employees are put on paid medical leave pending the results of the investigation.”
The USW local 9346 are prepared to explore every legal avenue possible including the Supreme Court, “to stop what seems to be a medical fishing expedition,” said Hanson.
Teck started their random drug and alcohol-testing program at the Elk Valley mines in December 2012. The case will go to arbitration this fall.