TTC pushes ahead with plans to implement random drug testing
Transit workers union is threatening a legal challenge and hinting at possible job action over plans for drug testing.
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The TTC is moving ahead with plans to implement random drug testing of its employees next year, despite the transit workers union threatening a legal challenge and hinting at possible job action.
At its meeting on Wednesday, the transit agency board approved confidential recommendations in a report on its random drug testing policy. Not all of the report has been made public, but after the vote TTC CEO Andy Byford said he could disclose that “the board authorized us to proceed” with the policy.
The TTC board first approved random testing in 2011, but the issue has been tied up in labour arbitration for years.
In March, the TTC decided to move forward without waiting for arbitration to conclude, however. The agency’s 2017 budget includes $1.3 million for implementing the policy, and asked whether he expects it to come into effect next year, Byford said, “That’s the direction of our board. That’s our intention.”
“We feel that there is a risk that cannot be ignored or tolerated any longer,” he said. He added that he believes “the vast majority” of workers “understand the need to take every possible step to maintain the safety of the travelling public.”
Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, spoke at the meeting, and argued that random drug testing is “not effective” and “not constitutional.”
He said that the union’s members “are in full support of eliminating impairment in the transit industry” but pushed for the TTC to adopt what he described as a less invasive testing method.
He said the union would agree to using an “optical scanner” in random impairment tests, which he said could tell whether a worker was intoxicated at the time of the test but not capture recreational drug use during off-work hours.
The testing methods proposed by the TTC are a breathalyzer for alcohol use, and a cheek swab for other drugs. Byford said the agency had considered optical scanning technology in the past and dismissed it as ineffective, but if the technology improved management would keep it under review.
In an interview with Torstar News Service, Kinnear said that if the TTC goes ahead with random testing, the union could seek a court injunction against it. He also suggested that employees could take more direct action.
“Listen, we have all sorts of forms of ways that we can display our displeasure with Mr. Byford and the TTC,” he said.
Since 2010, the TTC has had policies that allow alcohol and drug testing for new hires who are working in “safety sensitive” positions, as well as certain management and executive jobs. Another policy allows “post-incident” and “reasonable cause” testing for workers in certain roles. Employees who return to work after violating the “fit for duty” policy or after voluntarily disclosing a substance abuse policy can also be tested.
The recommendation for random tests came after a fatal TTC bus crash in 2011. The driver wasn’t found to have been impaired at the time, but was charged with cannabis possession.
In a separate case in 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against random testing unless employers could show there was an existing drug or alcohol problem in the workplace. The union claims the ruling makes the TTC’s plan unconstitutional, but Byford said the transit commission’s lawyers have said the agency is in the clear.
The potential showdown over random testing comes at a time when relations between the TTC and the union are already frayed. In October the transit agency filed an application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board alleging that the union had condoned an illegal strike, after only nine of roughly 600 train operators signed up for a voluntary overnight shift during the Nuit Blanche art festival.
Kinnear said at the time that the lack of volunteers was a “grassroots movement” that wasn’t condoned by union leaders.
The Nuit Blanche incident occurred shortly before the TTC introduced one-person train operation on Line 4 (Sheppard), a move the union opposed.