The United Steelworkers has successfully resolved the long-standing random drug and alcohol testing issue at Teck Coal mines in southeastern British Columbia, winning a landmark decision that forced Teck to stop its testing program.
In December of 2012, the company ignored legal precedent and introduced a random drug and alcohol testing program. USW locals 9346 (Elkview), 7884 (Fording River) and 7284 (Coal Mountain) immediately challenged the program. With the assistance of the USW legal department, the USW won a landmark decision from Arbitrator Kinzie earlier this year that struck down the program, forcing Teck to immediately cease random testing. That award stated:
…the Employer was not justified in implementing random drug and alcohol testing at its operations in December, 2012 or any time up to the conclusion of the hearing. Such testing and its accompanying policies seriously intrude upon employee privacy rights and 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. Consequently, the Employer’s introduction of its new policies and random testing was not a reasonable exercise of its management rights in all the circumstances of this case.
Following the decision, Steelworkers sought to implement the award through discussions with Teck’s corporate management, ultimately calling in mediator Vince Ready to help resolve outstanding issues. In the end, the parties agreed that Ready should issue a final and binding award. The union argued vigorously for damages and was successfully awarded three-quarters of a million dollars, including top-up of Short Term Disability for members who went on benefits because of the program, reinstatement and damages for a number of terminated members, and additional damages for members whose human rights were egregiously violated by the testing. While damages can never address the full impact on our members of the illegal testing program, this substantial award serves as a deterrent to Teck and other employers that want to ignore the rights their workforce.
This was a long, difficult fight for our union in the face of a company that was determined to implement random drug and alcohol testing at all costs and an initial arbitration award (from Arbitrator Taylor) that allowed the testing to continue while the grievance-arbitration process took place. But through the determination, unity and solidarity of our members, we achieved what we set-out to do: end Teck’s random testing program and protect USW members from illegal testing.
This commitment and result is in stark contrast to the approach taken by Unifor at Suncor, where that union has recently abandoned its fight and agreed to allow the company to randomly testing its members. It is an important reminder of having a union that is 100% focused on fighting for you. That is, and will continue to be the purpose of the United Steelworkers.
For more information, please contact your local union or staff representative.