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Random drug tests get UPW approval


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POSTED: Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Blue-collar city workers in the United Public Workers may be subject to random drug and alcohol testing under an agreement signed yesterday by Mayor Mufi Hannemann.

About 1,900 city workers, including garbage truck drivers, groundskeepers, mechanics and carpenters, will be affected by this "historic" agreement that is scheduled to begin as early as January.

"It's wonderful. It's historic," Hannemann said yesterday. "This is the first non-public-safety union that stepped up to say that they're willing to go through random drug testing."

Hannemann said he has been talking with union leaders since he entered office in 2005 about random medical testing but the talks became more serious during the last round of negotiations in 2006.

State workers in the UPW had agreed to undergo random drug and alcohol testing in a two-year contract ratified last year. But this is the first for city workers - who aren't considered "first responders," such as police officers, paramedics and firefighters - who agreed to random testing.

"The leadership of our union has recognized that drug and alcohol abuse is not only a problem of the workplace, but a problem of the community," said Dayton Nakanelua, UPW's state director.

Random drug and alcohol testing in the state has become a major issue recently among government workers, highlighted by the Hawaii State Teachers Association's approval of a controversial contract to include the testing. But testing for teachers is still pending, with the state and teachers union arguing over who should pay for the testing and the agreement itself.

The total cost for the city's drug and alcohol testing is about $17,500, with an anticipated 475 tests - or about 25 percent of the unionized employees - conducted per calendar year. The city will be training all supervisors and employees through the end of the year on drug and alcohol awareness.

If an employee fails the tests, union and city leaders said they plan on providing assistance rather than implementing a punitive system.

"It's a very proactive, preventive measure that will save us money in the long run," Hannemann said. "Even if it takes some folks off the work force for a while to get treatment, it's worth it, as opposed to them being in denial or abusing employment privileges that would get us into a heap of trouble."