Pubdate: Wed, 30 Mar 2005
Source: Arizona Daily Sun (AZ)
Copyright: 2005 Arizona Daily Sun
Author: Larry Hendricks
Bookmark: (Drug Test)


Flagstaff firefighters absolutely refuse to submit to random drug and 
alcohol testing. It's a violation, they say, of their constitutional rights.

City officials say they have the right to not only require firefighters to 
submit to the tests but fire those who don't.

Further, if firefighters test positive for illegal substances, they will be 
fired. If they test positive for alcohol on duty, they will undergo a 
rehabilitation period and more testing.

Now, a judge will decide.

Attorneys for the city and the Flagstaff firefighters' union will square 
off Friday in Coconino County Superior Court to present their cases.

City fire officials would not comment about the pending lawsuit and 
referred all questions to the City Attorney's Office.

"The union has issues with the drug-testing policy," said Flagstaff City 
Attorney Pat Boomsma. "We knew it was coming."

She and city officials met in executive session last Monday to talk about 
the threatened litigation by the firefighters' union. Boomsma said she was 
unable to comment on the content of the executive session discussion.

Two days later, the local firefighters' union filed a preliminary 
injunction, asking a judge to prevent the city from enacting its newly 
revised drug and alcohol testing policies.

The firefighters' issues were raised after the city rewrote the 
drug-testing policies in November 2004, Boomsma said. The policies were 
rewritten to comply with the findings of an Arizona case out of Mesa, where 
firefighters sued the city for violating their constitutional rights for 
requiring random drug and alcohol testing.

The Arizona Supreme Court concluded "... that the city's generalized and 
unsubstantiated interest in deterring and detecting alcohol and drug use 
among the city firefighters by conducting random drug tests is insufficient 
to overcome the ... privacy interests of the firefighters in this case."

According to a court filing, firefighters with the United Flagstaff 
Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 1505, take issue with elements of two 
of the city's drug-testing directives.

One, which refers to city employees who drive commercial vehicles, states 
that city employees undergo sporadically scheduled drug and alcohol tests 
throughout the year.

"The firefighters disagree with all provisions resulting in random, 
suspicionless drug/alcohol testing," stated court documents.

Another refers to all city employees and states that public safety 
personnel, such as police officers and firefighters, will be tested for 
drugs once a year. Officers will be tested within 90 days of their date of 
hire. Firefighters will be tested once a year at a designated time.

"This is another attempt at an unconstitutional, random, suspicionless 
drug-testing policy," court documents state.

The city also does not have procedures, policies or manuals in place that 
spell out what employees' rights are or what the testing process is, court 
documents state.

The court documents go on to state that "some firefighters have already 
been forced and compelled to submit a urine sample because they were told 
that they would be terminated from their jobs on April 1, 2005, if they did 
not urinate into a cup."

The attorney for the firefighters' union, C. Mark Schreiner of Flagstaff, 
said that all results of the urine samples that were provided should 
immediately be sealed and held confidential.

Schreiner did not immediately return a call for comment.

The complaint was filed to stop the city from performing any other random 
testing after the city refused to stop testing while negotiations were 
taking place.

"The firefighters are forced to file this petition to protect their 
rights," court documents state. "That serious and irreparable damages would 
occur if the city forced the firefighters to perform random, suspicionless 
drug/alcohol tests."

Furthermore, firefighters say they will be happy to submit to alcohol/drug 
tests under the following conditions: When a supervisor has reasonable, 
articulated, individualized suspicion; When a firefighter has an accident 
on the job; When a firefighter has previously tested positive for 
alcohol/dug use on the job in the furtherance of rehabilitation;

Boomsma said she is not aware of any other complaints about the rewritten 

"This the first that we were aware anyone had an issue with the revised 
policy," Boomsma said.

Deputy Chief Bob White of the Flagstaff Police Department said police 
officials have no problem with the changes.

"The policy changes now don't really affect the police department," White 
said. "These are the same policies we as a department have had in effect 
since about 1986."

The police department conducts pre-employment screens and a yearly screen 
for all commissioned and noncommissioned employees.

There is very little randomness in the drug screening, except for narcotics 
agents and evidence custodians, White said. Officials have a window of 
opportunity to have employees submit for a drug screen and can't request 
one any day outside that window.

"Our policy is our belief the public has a right to have faith in their 
public safety people, that they aren't coming to work under the influence 
of drugs and aren't abusing drugs in their off-duty capacity," White said.

Continued White, "It's important."

Besides, people using drugs like marijuana and cocaine, or are under the 
influence of alcohol while driving, are committing crimes, White added.

The preliminary injunction hearing will be in front of Judge Dan Slayton 
beginning at 1:30 p.m. Friday. 
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