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Metrolinx considering random testing for commuter, airport transit workers

TTC implemented testing last month


(Canadian OH&S News) — Metrolinx — the company that runs the GO Transit commuter system throughout the Greater Toronto Area, as well as the Union Pearson Express (UP) trains from downtown Toronto to Toronto Pearson International Airport — is currently considering whether it should adopt random alcohol and drug testing for some of its transit employees.

Following the Ontario Superior Court’s recent decision to allow the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to implement random testing on its bus, streetcar and subway operators, Metrolinx has formed a committee to review its processes for determining fitness for duty, according to Alex Burke, the provincial agency’s senior advisor for media relations, communications and public affairs.

“Our goal is to ensure that Metrolinx continues to strike the right balance between employee privacy concerns and the safety and security of our customers and transit system,” explained Burke in an e-mailed reply to COHSN. “Metrolinx is closely monitoring the TTC’s experience and ongoing litigation.”

Burke added that the company has a zero-tolerance approach to drugs and alcohol in the workplace. “We do random check-ins on our drivers, including unannounced worksite visits from supervisors,” he wrote. “We also have employee-assistance and peer-support programs to help individuals who may have issues — before they impact their work performance.

“If, at any time, a supervisor detects that an employee may not be fit to operate a motor vehicle… we remove the employee from such duties. The police will be called if a driver appears to be impaired while on duty.”

Burke also clarified that while GO buses are operated by Metrolinx employees, GO and UP trains are operated by workers with Bombardier Canada. Although Metrolinx does not currently perform random testing, “if a GO bus driver is involved in an accident, it becomes a police investigation,” he wrote. “Police would administer drug and/or alcohol testing if necessary.”

On the other hand, Bombardier already does administer drug and alcohol testing, said Burke, “for a variety of reasons — pre-employment, post-accident/incident, return to duty, follow-up or periodic physicals or any time there is reasonable suspicion.” Bombardier has a testing policy “to ensure a safe, drug- and alcohol-free work environment and to prevent drug- and alcohol-related incidents, accidents, injuries, fatalities and damage.”

Danny Harris — the president of Local 1587 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which represents GO bus drivers — declined to comment on the issue. “I’m still reviewing where we’re at,” he said.

But a June 7 story in the Hamilton Spectator quoted national ATU head Paul Thorp as calling random testing “a breach of the employees’ human rights.” He also reportedly said that there are too many false positives in random testing to make it a feasible solution. “I think that the science is not there as of yet.”

Burke acknowledged that the laws on random testing are still in flux in Canada “as both the law and available testing technologies continue to evolve.”

The TTC began to implement random testing on May 8. The Commission had previously intended to initiate its testing program before the end of last year (COHSN, April 26, 2016).