Teachers’ vote seen as OK for drug tests
Ratification meant acceptance of random testing, the state Attorney General says
Hawaii public school teachers gave up their right to raise privacy concerns about random drug tests last year when they ratified a contract requiring the screenings, the state argued yesterday.
The state has filed a complaint with the Labor Relations board against the Hawaii State Teachers Union.
In a 33-page opinion, the state Attorney General's Office wrote that the contract's approval by a majority of some 13,000 isle teachers in May 2007 invalidates "any constitutional search and seizure or privacy concerns" over a random drug-testing program.
The report, released Friday by Deputy Attorney General Girard Lau, came a month after the Hawaii State Teachers Association failed to implement a drug-testing program by a June 30 deadline. It was addressed to Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Ikeda, who asked for the opinion.
Ikeda could not be reached for comment.
HSTA President Roger Takabayashi said the union believes that suspicionless drug tests would be unconstitutional under the U.S. and state constitutions. The union has completed guidelines for reasonable-suspicion drug tests, and officials are working with the school board to develop legal random guidelines, he said.
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But state chief negotiator Marie Laderta yesterday accused the union of placing the contract up for a vote while never intending to carry out the random tests.
The contract carried two annual raises of 4 percent.
She called it "a classic case of very, very bad-faith bargaining."
"Their credibility is at stake. I'm not sure I can believe them," Laderta said about negotiators in ongoing talks for a new teacher contract.
The union is seeking the dismissal of a state complaint before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board alleging that the union breached its contract. Takabayashi said he is hoping the labor board, which has set a preliminary hearing for Aug. 13, will rule on the constitutional implications of random drug tests.
Takabayashi, in a July 29 newsletter sent to teachers, said the union "significantly underestimated the time and resources required" to draft drug-testing procedures.
He also said several federal courts have concluded the government's interest in ensuring safe public schools "does not justify subjecting all teachers to suspicionless drug testing."
State Deputy Attorney General Jim Halvorson alleged the two-page letter misinforms teachers by leaving out a new union determination that says the contract would limit random drug tests to employees who carry a commercial driver's license.
Halvorson said the interpretation of the contract puzzled him because he doesn't believe any teacher would have such a license, which is held by people who operate heavy machinery or equipment. And he noted that a federal law has required those workers to be randomly tested for drugs since 1995.
Takabayashi said he was not aware of any effort to restrict random drug tests to such employees.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
The last name of state Deputy Attorney General Girard Lau was misspelled as Law in this article.