January/February 2005 IBEW Journal
"This is about leaders setting an example," said President Ed Hill, as he prepared for drug and alcohol screening under the IBEWs new Drug Free Workplace Plan, covering all International Officers, International Representatives and management personnel at the International and district offices.
The Internationals plan follows the September 2004 agreement between the IBEW and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), which mandated that local unions institute minimum standards providing for drug-free pools of construction workers nationwide, through voluntary screening of journeymen and apprentices. An IBEW press release announcing the agreement said: "We are above all concerned for the safety of all workers on the job and for getting help for those members who have substance abuse problems."
"President Hill and I are not going to ask our members to do anything we ourselves were not willing to do," said International Secretary-Treasurer Jerry OConnor. The two top officers were the first to take the oral swab drug tests on January 11, 2005, and they were followed by the Executive Assistants, Directors, International Representatives and non-bargaining unit personnel at the International Office. International Vice Presidents and their staffs were also tested in January at their respective offices.
The IBEW will introduce substance abuse testing as a mandatory subject of bargaining in upcoming negotiations with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 2, which represents employees at the I.O.
President Hill explains the need for high standards. "In this age of instant mass communication, a single incident involving a leader, member or employee of our organization abusing drugs or alcohol could damage our reputation for years to come." As the union fights to maintain market share and organize the unorganized, Hill says, "we must do what is in our best long-term interests to meet the demands of the modern workplace."
The National Substance Abuse Policy, bargained with NECA, and the IBEW plan require substance screening for "reasonable cause" such as possession or selling of prohibited substances, or in the case of accidents. The internal IBEW program will require periodic, mandatory random testing. A medical officer will review positive test results and must sign a release before that employee can return to work. The standards also provide that only independent, certified laboratories are to conduct all tests.
Many local unions are still in the process of implementing the National Substance Abuse Testing Policy. "We knew that these policy changes would not be made overnight, but the IBEW will live up to its agreement," said President Hill.
Many IBEW members have submitted to mandatory testing for the past several years as a condition of employment, including those working in powerhouses, nuclear facilities and refineries. Some local unions negotiated mandatory testing agreements with employers, long before the national policy was established, winning wage increases in return.
Several building trades unions have also taken a proactive stance on drug testing. The Ironworker-Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) implemented drug-free pools in January 2005. The Carpenters, in conjunction with the Teamsters and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees recently launched a pilot program that provides for drug and alcohol testing for all employees who perform work at the D.C. Convention Center in the nations capital.
The IBEW plan, says President Hill, underscores that "our membership is entitled to nothing less from those who lead the union, than are the contractors with whom we negotiate. We guarantee a productive, dedicated and drug-free work force."