But union leader denies transit system has systemic problem
(Canadian OH&S News) — The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is planning to implement a program of random alcohol and drug testing for bus, subway and streetcar operators by the end of the year, CEO Andy Byford announced in a letter sent to all employees on April 18.
Although the TTC added random testing to its “fitness for duty” policy in 2011, funding for such a program was not approved until March of this year, Byford stated in the announcement. The Commission is now taking steps to put the program into effect, including hiring a third party to administer the tests.
“There is an ongoing arbitration with respect to the entire ‘fitness for duty’ policy, including random testing. Given the seriousness of this issue — it is, after all, a workplace and public safety matter — the arbitration process is taking far too long to conclude,” wrote Byford. “The TTC will also be asking the Province of Ontario to consider legislation making random testing mandatory for public-transit agencies.”
Brad Ross, the TTC’s executive director of corporate communications, told COHSN that there had been 16 cases of employees either impaired at work or refusing to take drug tests in 2014 — and that the number had risen to 30 for 2015. There have been six additional cases in 2016 up to the end of March, he added.
“The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2013,” explained Ross, “that if you want to introduce random testing, you need to demonstrate that you have a pervasive problem in the workplace. And we argue that we do, and it goes beyond the workplace.”
But Bob Kinnear — president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, the union for TTC operators — disagreed that there was a systemic problem. “The TTC is failing miserably at trying to make that justification,” he said.
Kinnear accused TTC management of beefing up the numbers of intoxication cases with incidents that had not been work-related. “This was a stunt that they actually got away with four or five years ago,” he charged. “They’re putting out numbers of employees that may have been on summer vacation up at the cottage, they may have gotten a DUI.”
The TTC expects to use breathalyzers for alcohol testing and oral-fluid tests for drugs. But the purpose is only to determine if the employee is intoxicated at the time of the test, Ross stressed.
“What we won’t know is whether or not you smoked a joint last weekend, for example,” he said. “What you do on your own time is none of our business, but what you do on company time is very much our business and very much the public’s business.”
Both Ross and Kinnear said that they encourage TTC employees with substance-abuse issues to come forward and seek help voluntarily. The TTC has an employee family-assistance plan that allows workers to get the treatment they need, without penalty, as long as the worker has declared a problem.
“If you do test positive in a random test, and you haven’t declared to us that you have a dependency, then that is not going to be an excuse for being impaired at work,” said Ross.
But Kinnear speculated that the TTC was also including employees who fail drug or alcohol tests while voluntarily getting treatment in the statistics for impairment incidents. “I don’t think that it’s reflective of the workforce when they do that,” he said.
Kinnear added that the union had suggested using optical scanners to detect intoxication as an alternative to random testing several years before, but the TTC had refused even to discuss the idea.
“This may be just a move by Mr. Byford also because he’s seeking employment, from what we hear, at various transit properties, most recently New York City,” he said. “This may be just a political ploy for him to show that he’s a tough manager and runs a tough ship.”
Ross maintained that the move was entirely about protecting employees and customers.
“It’s all about safety, and that’s all it is,” he said.