Thursday, December 1, 2011

Does Metro Really Randomly Test for Drugs and Alcohol?

A recent post on station managers testing positive for illegal drugs shook out some interesting commentary from Metro folks.

Drug and alcohol tests can be done randomly or can be triggered by, according to Metro, an incident "in which a person has died or is treated at a medical facility or where there has been property damage resulting in the towing of a vehicle or the removal of a transit vehicle from revenue service."

Fender benders or other slight mishaps would not seem to fall under this definition.

A while back, I asked Metro, via a Freedom of Information request (PARP in Metro-ese), for the number of employees who'd been enrolled in the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a "confidential joint labor management program offering counseling and referral for employees who have substance abuse problems in addition to marital, emotional, family, or financial concerns which may cause poor attendance, unsatisfactory job performance, or create safety hazards for the employee, co-workers, or the public."

Metro declined.

Their reason for declining:
In order to respond to this request, we would have to review approximately 7,500 safety sensitive files and cross reference employee numbers with the random selection list.

But they did say the following:
344 safety sensitive employees [not station managers] were tested for alcohol from February 17, 2011 through August 17, 2011 and 836 safety sensitive employees were tested for drugs from February 17, 2011 – August 17, 2011.
What was interesting was what I heard about the so-called random drug testing from Metro employees.

One guy we talked to--a former bus driver (safety sensitive) now working in another capacity--said that he was well known as a teetotaler who was guaranteed to test clean. He said that when it came time for Metro to meet its quota for the number of people to be "randomly" tested, they'd always come around to him.

He said the testers would look at him closely in the eyes and smell his breath "just to make sure," and then ask him to give a sample.

The worker alleged that if Metro really randomly tested "safety sensitive" positions, they'd have to shut the system down because of all the positive test results.

Another worker, also an abstainer, confirmed that he was often asked to give samples while others were never seemed to have to.
If you're a part of the clique, the rules don't apply to you. I knew a lot of operators, drivers and others who were routinely seemed out of it, but they never were caught and punished. Drug testing is a joke to a lot of people.
They added that getting around drug testing was usually done by getting a heads up when the drug testing was coming or by making sure the sample they gave was never actually tested.

Another Metro worker said:
I have gone years without a random. Then all of a sudden, the guy just senior to me will get a call for his random. Then, the next day, I get the call. Then, I hear the guy junior to me got the call.

Not random in the least.

I am guessing they decide to test certain departments and then pick three or four guys in a row off of the roster for tests.
Yet another, now retired, worker in a highly technical field said a friend of theirs smoked pot in their free time, but never tested positive. This led them to the following conclusions:

a) They aren't really submitting any samples for testing.
b) They are only submitting a certain percentage of the samples -- either randomly or based on the employee's behavior/appearance.
c) Whether they are testing some or all samples, the 'tolerance' or threshold for THC may be set fairly high.

They added:
I would have no problem telling you if I thought that the people at Metro were a bunch of drug-addicted alcoholics, but to the best of my ability to tell, that's not the case. In the many years I worked at Metro, I don't think I ever saw one person obviously high or drunk.

I take that back -- early on, there were two guys, one an alcoholic, the other I'm not sure -- some hardcore drug problem. Both went through rehab and both got caught again and were fired. Contrary to popular belief, they never were able to get their jobs back. Some do, but many do not. It depends on who you know and if both management and the union officers like you.
If you want to read the official Metro line on drug testing and the surprising repercussions of testing positive, read this (PDF).
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