Pubdate: Fri, 26 Aug 2011
Source: Peoria Journal Star (IL)
Copyright: 2011sPeoria Journal Star


The teachers strike at Illini Bluffs is into its second week and
eyeballing a third, and it has been fascinating, if also a bit
depressing, to read the back-and-forth in the on-line comments to
Journal Star stories.

Once upon a time this nation stood for something, affording its
citizens an unprecedented set of civil liberties. Americans got used
to those, so much so that they wouldn't give them up without a fight.
Apparently that spirit has vanished from certain segments of the
population, if not from the ranks of these teachers.

To be sure, the U.S. Constitution does not strictly forbid drug
testing for workers. In perhaps the most relevant Supreme Court ruling
on the subject, National Treasury Employees v. Von Raab (1989), a
majority of justices sided with the government employer's right to
test for drugs but limited its application, while also ruling that
requiring employees to provide urine samples - as would be the case in
Illini Bluffs - met the definition of a "search" as addressed by the
Fourth Amendment, which outlaws "unreasonable" ones. ("The right of
the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated
.") Interestingly, consistently conservative Justice Antonin Scalia
was among those dissenting on grounds the search was "particularly
destructive of privacy and offensive to personal dignity."

There are other constitutional principles at stake - some fundamental
privacy protections pertaining to how the drug tests are administered
and the results communicated, a Fifth Amendment right to due process -
but the Fourth is really where it's at. Beyond that Congress and the
courts have looked favorably on "drug-free workplace" provisions in
the 25 years they've been around, though they generally consist of
pre-employment, "for cause" or post-rehabilitation testing, to which
this page has no objection. Except where public safety may be at risk,
random or "suspicionless" testing cannot be unilaterally implemented
when unions are involved. Arguably that safety factor does not apply
here. The issue must be negotiated, with both sides signing off.

So what's reasonable?

Perhaps an analogy would be in order.

Let's say you're a commuter. Every weekday you drive on the McClugage
or Murray Baker Bridge to get to work. Once or twice a week there's a
police roadblock in the middle of one of those spans, with vehicles
chosen arbitrarily and their drivers required to exit and provide a
bodily fluid to check for the presence of drugs or alcohol before
they're allowed - or not - to complete their crossing.

The Supremes have ruled that such stops are permissible under certain
circumstances. After all, you're using a public road, where you have
no right or reasonable expectation of privacy. You must be licensed to
drive, which makes it a privilege, not a right. From law enforcement's
standpoint, the testing or the threat thereof makes the public safer,
which is all the justification anyone should need. It's certainly
proven an effective deterrent to substance use and abuse, a societal

So, would that be reasonable? One trusts most central Illinoisans
would find it a wholly unreasonable, intrusive, unwarranted nuisance
in what's touted as a free society. But if this random drug testing
policy at Illini Bluffs - where board members have confessed they
don't believe their classrooms have a problem and have faith every
employee would pass - is reasonable, then why not a weekly,
blood-and-breathalyzer two-step on the bridge?

Ultimately, it's about the kind of country you want to live in. The 
nation's Founding Fathers got it. (Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would 
give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, 
deserve neither liberty nor safety.") The teachers get it. The Illini 
Bluffs School Board doesn't. (No wonder its members have remained so silent.)

And unfortunately a fair number of citizens don't get it either. They
subscribe to the misperception that such random drug testing policies
are common. (If there is another Illinois public school district that
does what Illini Bluffs is proposing, no one seems to be aware of it.)
Routine are the all-too-porous arguments that these teachers "are
lucky to have a job" or "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing
to worry about." (Imagine the constitutional abuses that could be
excused by those attitudes.) One appreciates that this economy has
cowed a lot of people, but this level of passive and compliant seems
downright un-American. Who'd have thought sticking up for the
Constitution would prove in the least bit unpopular?

In some ways it's all too easy, from the outside looking in, to
encourage Illini Bluffs teachers to continue fighting the good fight.
With no visible cracks in the facade of either side so far, this is
looking to be an uncommonly long strike. Indeed, it is already. Soon
time will be on the School Board's side, given the financial pressures
that will come from teachers not receiving a regular paycheck.
Nonetheless, while the gain for the School Board here is minimal - one
does wonder if this isn't about something else - for employees this is
a principle worthy of this picket line, way bigger than this one contract. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.