Pubdate: Mon, 16 Feb 2004
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 2004, New Haven Register
Author: Luther Turmelle
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Local public officials and experts in the field of substance abuse
treatment regard a recent incident in which two Milford sanitation
workers were caught drinking on the job as something of an anomaly.

A review of several years worth of substance testing records kept by
the Connecticut Council of Municipalities, on public works employees
from around the state, found only 2 or 3 percent of those checked over
that period tested positive for alcohol or drugs, said CCM spokesman
Kevin Maloney.

All municipal public works employees who have commercial driver's
licenses and operate heavy machinery are required to undergo random
drug testing during the tenure of employment, Maloney said. CCM
conducts the testing as a service to its member municipalities, he

Nevertheless, the incident in Milford served as an important reminder
to workers across the region, according to officials in area

Milford sanitation workers Mark Bouteiller and Robert Morse were
suspended without pay for five days and are also subject to random
drug and alcohol testing up to six times in the coming year as a
result of the Feb. 6 incident, Milford officials said.

"Oh, it was definitely the talk of our Public Works Department," said
Orange First Selectman Mitchell Goldblatt.

Some public officials and substance abuse experts believe that part of
the reason for the relatively low instance of such problems among
municipal employees is that public sector employers do a better job
detecting and treating substance abuse among their employees.

"It's more common (for a government entity) to have an employee
assistance program than it is for a company in the private sector,"
said Richard Denenberg, director of Workplace Solutions, a New
York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that promotes health
and well-being on the job.

That doesn't mean, some public officials say, that substance abuse is
any less prevalent among public sector employees than it is among any
others in the work force.

"It just mirrors society as a whole," said Ansonia Mayor James Della
Volpe, who said he's not aware of substance abuse problems among
municipal workers. "I worked with the state employees' union for many
years, and it wasn't any more or less of a problem than it is among
the rest of the population."

Many municipal substance abuse programs are done jointly with a public
employees' union, Denenberg said.

That's the case in Orange, where the town has an employee assistance
program for its police officers as part of its labor contract,
Goldblatt said. Now, town officials are discussing whether to offer
the benefit to other town employees, he said.

The involvement of the union in overseeing a municipal employee's
substance abuse problem often makes workers more inclined to come
forward and seek help, Denenberg said.

"If a municipal employee trusts his union leaders, he's going to be
more inclined to come forward," he said. "It doesn't have the same
edge as turning yourself in to the employer."

The involvement of unions in public sector substance abuse programs
also benefits employers, said John Olsen, head of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.

"Management has an opportunity through the union contract to address
some of these problems that they might not otherwise have a forum
for," Olsen said.

Public officials and workplace experts say that being a municipal
employee opens individuals up to a level of scrutiny that private
sector workers don't have to deal with, Denenberg said.

"Public employees are always being watched by the public because we
pay their salaries," he said. "Any sign of misbehavior prompts a
public outcry."

That's what made the Milford incident so surprising to many

Bouteiller and Morse were in a city vehicle when they stopped to buy
beer at a 7-Eleven on Boston Post Road on Feb. 6. Witnesses saw one of
the men get into the truck carrying beer he'd bought at the store and
called city officials.

The two were ordered off the job after sobriety tests confirmed that
they had ingested alcohol, although not enough to exceed the legal
limit for driving.

Something so brazen as getting into a city-owned vehicle after buying
an alcoholic beverage could be interpreted as a cry for help, said
Mallary Tytel, president of Healthy Workplaces, a Bolton-based
workplace issues consulting firm. But Tytel also sees the drinking
incident as an illustration of how some municipal departments need to
be better trained.

"It speaks to a lack of accountability within the department," she
said of the Milford incident. "I would suspect this is not a one-time

A former Milford public works employee alleged last year that
on-the-job drinking occurred, but an investigation found no probable
cause for discipline.

Without directly commenting on the handling of the drinking incident
by Department of Public Works officials, Milford Mayor James
Richetelli Jr. addressed the accountability issue by announcing that
the city will implement a training program to help supervisors in the
department identify possible problems.

Milford-based Gregory Services, the city's drug and alcohol testing
agency, will implement the program.

"Ultimately, there's a potential for it to be used for all city
departments," Richetelli said.
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