As of January 23rd, British Columbia coal mine company Teck Resources Ltd. has been ordered by arbitrator John Kinzie to cease its random drug and alcohol testing of employees.
“[Teck] apparently pulled names out of a hat somehow and would select people and then force them to go into a random drug and alcohol test,” said Alex Hanson, president of United Steelworkers Local 9346. “We have been against this right from the outset.”
Teck Coal Random Drug and Alcohol testing first began 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 that testing will stop at at Fording River and Elkview mines with immediate effect, and pursuant to agreements between Teck, USW Local 7284 and IUOE Local 115, it will also cease at Coal Mountain and Line Creek mines.
Hansen says that random drug tests brought them back to the days when companies hired a company doctor, and employers had access to staff records and medical files and made employment decisions based on their perception of each candidate’s medical condition.
“That’s what the major problem is with random drug testing,” he said. “It opens the door to all of that.”
In 2013, Teck ignored a Supreme Court statement that declared the practice of random testing “unreasonable” by continuing to randomly test its employers. Teck also conducted pre-employment as well as post-incident testing, which both the union and arbitrator agreed was justified.
“There is not a corresponding ‘general’ problem in those workplaces with employees being under the influence of, or impaired by, drugs or alcohol sufficient enough to justify those serious intrusions into their rights,” Kinzie said as part of his decision.
In an email following the ruling, Teck communications specialist Chris Stannell stated, “Safety is a core value and we are committed to ensuring a safe work environment for our people … [and] random testing stopped at Teck’s Elk Valley mine sites following the decision.”
“Teck is reviewing the decision with council before determining next steps,” he continued.
Hanson said workers are happy with the Supreme Court’s decision, and will be seeking compensation for the affected employees.
USW District 3 Director Stephen Hunt called the decision a significant victory for 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.
Teck is not the only company to come under Supreme Court rulings to stop random drug testing, as in December, an Alberta judge ordered oilsands giant Suncor not to proceed with plans to start randomly testing its employees. The company stated it would file an immediate appeal.