Pubdate: Fri, 02 Mar 2018
Source: Fort McMurray Today (CN AB)
Copyright: 2018 Fort McMurray Today
Author: Vincent McDermott
Page: AS2


The president of the union representing more than 3,000 Suncor workers
says they have prepared to bring the issue of random drug testing back
to arbitration if the Supreme Court of Canada does not hear their case.

The comments came after the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld an
injunction against the practice granted by the province's Court of
Queen's Bench.

In a Thursday morning interview, Ken Smith, president of Unifor Local
707A, said he was confident Canada's top court will hear their case.
The union expects to hear a decision by the end of March.

"The impacts will be important for workers all across Canada. It will
be a precedent-setting case if we get it before the Supreme Court," he
said. "Right now, it's one more legal panel that has sided with us
saying random testing is not OK, at least for the time being."

Suncor and the local have been fighting over the practice since the
company introduced it in 2012. The union has argued the practice is a
degrading one that violates the rights and privacy of workers.

Suncor has argued there are drug and safety issues at its oilsands
sites, and that random testing is a suitable deterrence.

Two Appeal judges agreed in their decisions there was a safety issue,
but said random testing would reach no more than 104 employees per

"It is therefore conceivable that some union employees would be forced
to comply with multiple tests within the same month ... constituting a
significant intrusion on their privacy, dignity and bodily integrity."

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Frans Slater wrote Suncor's
"concerns about substance abuse are not just hypothetical."

Some workers have tested positive for drugs, he said, including
cocaine and opiates. In other cases, security staff have discovered
drugs, fake urine, urine tampering devices and weapons.

Slater said he would have allowed Suncor's appeal and set aside the

Smith said he disagreed drugs were a serious problem at Suncor's
oilsands operations, and argued most abuse comes from contractors and
commuters living in work camps, rather than full-time employees living
in Fort Mcmurray.

He also described the process as a degrading one.

In one case, Smith said an employee was denied his insulin while
waiting to begin his drug test; he was only allowed to take it when he
went into diabetic shock in the waiting room.

In another case, a man was going to the washroom when his vehicle was
hit. He was eventually allowed to make a bowel movement while waiting
to begin his test, but could not flush the toilet unless medical staff
made sure he was not trying to flush any other objects down the toilet.

Some female employees have said their hygiene products had to be
inspected before they could be thrown out for the same reason.

"All those cases had the employees coming back passing the tests.
There was nothing in their systems," said Smith. "It's an incredibly
degrading system that makes us feel like we're criminals proving our

Suncor spokesperson Sneh Seetal said the company is honouring the
injunction while it reviews the Appeal decision and goes over options.
If the company beats the legal challenges and random drug testing is
introduced, it would work with a third-party operator to make sure
testing is done in "a way that is respectful and dignified to the workers."

"The driver behind why we're including random testing as part of a
safety program hasn't changed and that is we want to send our folks
home at the end of their shifts," she said. "We have a duty to protect
the safety of the public and the environment, and we need to ensure
our people working are fit for duty."

Seetal also pointed out that when Suncor first announced the policy in
June 2012, the number of Suncor workers seeking assistance for
substance abuse increased, but dropped following an Oct. 2012 injunction.

Smith said the influx of workers seeking addictions help happened
because Suncor had recently improved their policies for helping
workers with substance abuse. Before, workers feared they would be
rejected for the program and termination would follow.

"When any program is offered, whether it's minor hockey or drug
addiction programs, the first pass is when most people sign up and
then a trickle follows," he said. "I don't believe it slowed only
because of the injunction. I don't think the numbers would have
continued to rise if everyone was signing up early on."

- - With files from The Canadian Press
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MAP posted-by: Matt