The USW office in Sparwood. Photo courtesy of Steve Kallies The USW office in Sparwood. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

USW wins fight against random drug tests

After five long years, the United Steelworkers became the first union in B.C. to win an arbitration that has put an end to random drug testing by a mining company.

The union fought against the practice as they believe it violated the human rights of the workers, and posed further problems in regards to medical privacy. Effective immediately, random testing has stopped at all of Teck Resources mine sites in the Elk Valley.

The Teck Coal Random Drug and Alcohol testing was first initiated in December of 2012 in the Elk Valley at all five mine sites. The USW represents three of the five mines in the Elk Valley: Coal Mountain, Fording River Operations and Teck – Elkview Operations.

The victory by USW Locals 7884 and 9346 means the testing is to cease at Fording River and Elkview mines with immediate effect, and pursuant to agreements between Teck, USW Local 7284, and IUOE Local 115, it is also struck down at Coal Mountain and Line Creek mines.

USW local 9346 president Alex Hansen says that the random drug tests brought them back to the days of a company doctor, through which the company had complete access to a staff member’s medical files and records, in turn making employment decisions based on what they believed a workers medical situation to be.

“That’s what the major problem is with random drug testing,” he said. “It opens the door to all of that.”

On January 23, Arbitrator John Kinzie issued his decision on the Teck Coal Random Drug and Alcohol Testing arbitration, ruling that the company has not shown a workplace problem sufficient to justify random testing.

Teck Resources will continue with their practice of post incident and reasonable cause testing.

Hansen emphasized that the union does not support the use of drugs and alcohol at work.

He further explained that at the end of the day, an employer does not have the right to test without cause.

Hansen said that not even the police have the right to take a body sample without reasonable cause.

“This should be precedent setting in British Columbia,” he added.

USW District 3 Director Stephen Hunt lauded the decision as a significant victory for not only Steelworkers, but all workers.

“The arbitrator completely rejected the idea that some theoretical, but non-existent safety risk justifies the intrusion of random testing when there is no evidence of workplace problems due to drug and alcohol use,” said Hunt.

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