Pubdate: Fri, 22 Mar 2002
Source: Middletown Press (CT)
Copyright: 2002 Middletown Press
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


In the days following a March 12 search of employee locker rooms at the 
Middletown Works, a war of words has erupted between AK Steel Corp. and the 
Armco Employees Independent Federation.

AK Steel followed the March 12 search - which yielded nothing improper, 
according to the union - with an advertising message that touts AK's 
zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol in the workplace, and urges 
employees and their families to contact AEIF leadership because "the AEIF 
seems more concerned about protecting drug users."

AEIF President Ed Shelley predictably has taken umbrage at those remarks, 
and said - after the search and in a letter to the editor Wednesday - that 
"our union does not condone such drugs in the workplace or anywhere else." 
The real issue, the union claims, is whether AK's searches violate AEIF 
members' contractual and Constitutional rights against unreasonable, 
improper searches and whether the union will be permitted to represent its 
members fairly in disciplinary actions brought by the company.

The company has maintained that it has the right to search its own property 
whenever it chooses, and that the union should not be defending members who 
have failed drug tests and been disciplined or discharged.

The conflict, on the surface, is over whether substance abuse can be 
tolerated in the workplace. And there is no room for debate on that point: 
Drug and alcohol use in a workplace cannot be tolerated.

Beneath the surface, though, the conflict seems to be about other, more 
complex issues regarding the interpretation of the union's contract 
provisions, a worker's right to privacy vs. the company's right to ensure a 
safe environment, and union representation in disciplinary matters.

We think both sides can agree that substance abuse - whether it involves 
drugs or alcohol - poses a unique threat in the dangerous 
steel-manufacturing environment. The actions of one irresponsible 
individual can easily translate into a deadly accident that could claim the 
lives of innocent, unsuspecting fellow workers.

AK Steel has rebounded admirably from a deadly string of accidents in the 
mid-'90s - by emphasizing safety above all other concerns. Certainly a 
zero-tolerance policy on substance abuse is consistent with and necessary 
to AK's commitment to make its workplaces the safest environments possible.

And we think that's what the Middletown community wants as well.

But we can't have it both ways. We can't turn a blind eye to substance 
abuse among workers, then act surprised and outraged when there are fatal 

We do not doubt the company's commitment to making its workplaces as safe 
as possible nor do we doubt the AEIF's commitment to representing its 
membership and its members' interests. But some of the company's claims - 
including that the union wants an employee who admitted cocaine addiction 
to be reinstated - are troubling, and we think union leadership would 
benefit by clarifying its position on reinstating members with established 
substance abuse problems.

It's our hope that both company management and union leadership can work 
together to arrive at a satisfactory way to keep drugs and alcohol out of 
the workplace and to keep Middletown Works as safe as possible for all.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jackl