Pubdate: Fri, 10 Jun 2011
Source: Chicago Sun-Times (IL)
Copyright: 2011 Sun-Times Media, LLC
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Personal privacy and civil liberties are essential to the success of 
a democratic society. Any public policy that erodes those values must 
be weighed very carefully.

Random workplace drug tests, which infringe on privacy, can be 
condoned only when a strong case can be made that they are necessary 
for on-the-job and public safety. A proposed ordinance for mandatory 
random drug testing of all Chicago employees from aldermen on down 
doesn't meet that test.

We can accept the justification for random drug testing of bus or 
truck drivers and police officers. The dangers to the public are 
obvious if a driver or officer is under the influence of drugs. A 
drug test becomes preventive medicine.

We even recently defended a CHA proposal to require random drug tests 
for residents of public housing. Just a small number of drug addicts 
in a housing development can destroy the quality of life for the good 
people who - and this is the crux of the issue - have nowhere else to 
go. The city has a moral responsibility to make sure public housing is safe.

But if we prize our civil liberties, we have to draw a line 
somewhere. To randomly test all city employees - who already must 
pass a drug test to be hired - would mess with their personal 
freedoms for insufficient gains. Yes, it can be hard to draw the line 
- - would 911 dispatchers be included? But to the best of our 
knowledge, nobody has ever lost their house because some drug-addled 
clerk in the recorder of deeds office wrote the wrong number on a form.

The aldermen behind the proposal, Edward M. Burke (14th) and Pat 
O'Connor (40th), hope random drug testing will reduce payouts for 
accidents and workers compensation. Burke compares drug tests to 
lighthouses: You never know how many accidents they prevent.

But random drug testing would open a can of worms that doesn't need 
opening. If the city discovers that scads of city workers have traces 
of drugs in their system not from smoking joints on the job but from 
doing so over the weekend, would they be fired?

We can't argue with the desire to cut costs. But the erosion of 
personal privacy exacts a far bigger price.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom