Union calls out Marine Atlantic for unfair random testing

Jul 29, 2021

In recent months, Unifor members working on Marine Atlantic ferries have spoken out against being unfairly targeted for random alcohol testing. Unifor, a general trade union in Canada and the largest private sector union in Canada has approximately 310,000 workers and associate members in numerous industries.

In June of this year, a letter to the editor published in the St. John’s Telegram, Linda MacNeil, the private sector union’s Atlantic regional director, stated that random alcohol testing violates their members’ privacy without cause or legal basis.

“Our members are being treated differently than other employees at Marine Atlantic,” MacNeil said in her interview with CBC Radio’s Newfoundland Morning. “And we certainly have a problem with that.”

In April 2021, a labour arbitrator had already ruled that Marine Atlantic’s random testing of Canadian Merchant Service Guild members was a violation of their privacy. Consequently, the corporation ceased the practice among guild members; however, according to MacNeil, Marine Atlantic continues to randomly test members of Unifor locals 4285 and 4286 in the same workplace.

“Unifor members are working side by side with those same employees, yet they are still being targeted for the random testing,” said MacNeil in her interview with CBC News. “If it’s an invasion of privacy for one group, obviously logic states it should apply to all employees.”

Since 2003, Marine Atlantic has been conducting random alcohol tests as part of its drug and alcohol policy. According to MacNeil, alcohol testing is appropriate where there is reasonable cause, but this isn’t the case at Marine Atlantic. MacNeil told CBC News that of the more than 3,000 random tests completed between 2003 and 2017, only a few cases have been positive.

In turn, Darrell Mercer, a spokesperson for Marine Atlantic, told CBC’s Newfoundland Morning that the corporation is currently working toward eliminating random testing. However, Mercer also noted that before they end the practice, they need to ensure there are other options in place to maintain their zero-tolerance policy for alcohol.

“Safety continues to be the highest priority for Marine Atlantic,” said Mercer. “We know that privacy regulations and privacy provisions have changed through the years, but we don’t want to just stop [the random testing] and not have anything in place,” said Mercer.

In addition, Mercer added that the corporation hopes to work with Unifor to determine other solutions, including education and awareness for employees or collaboration with addictions programs.

According to MacNeil, the solution is simple – cessation of the random testing for Unifor members, as had been done for guild members.

“Marine Atlantic has to apply that same logic to Unifor members and cease the random testing,” said MacNeil. “That’s not to say the employer can’t have a policy. Of course they can, but it should not include random testing.”

Furthermore, MacNeil added that if the random testing continues, the union will take its response beyond formal complaints.

“Put yourself in our members’ shoes. You’re working side by side with someone from the guild, yet they’re exempt from any random testing. There’s no logical reason why they shouldn’t cease the random testing for our members as well.”