A drug and alcohol testing program for 200,000 railroad workers nationwide was temporarily blocked Friday by a federal appeals court, three days before it was to take effect.
By a 2-1 vote, a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals prohibited the Federal Railroad Administration from implementing the program, the first of its kind in a federally regulated transportation industry, until the court rules on a constitutional challenge by labor unions.
Judges Dorothy Nelson and Stephen Reinhardt voted to block the program during the appeal. Judge Charles Wiggins dissented.
Ruling in Future
Union lawyer Lawrence Mann said a ruling in the case might be six to eight months away.
"To allow drug testing to go forward, particularly invasive drug testing and urinalysis where it might be unconstitutional, before they had a chance to look at the merits would be a miscarriage of justice," Mann said.
He said the case might determine whether the U.S. Department of Transportation will issue similar rules allowing drug and alcohol testing for federally regulated airlines, buses and trucks.
U.S. District Judge Charles Legge upheld the testing program on Nov. 26, saying it was justified by safety concerns and did not excessively intrude on privacy.
Ruling on Stay
The Federal Railroad Administration agreed not to implement the program until the appeals court decided whether to issue a stay while it heard the case, Mann said.
The new regulations, under preparation for two years, would authorize major railroads to conduct breath or urine tests on non-supervisory workers in any of the following cases:
- A supervisor has a "reasonable suspicion" that a worker is under the influence of alcohol, or alcohol combined with drugs.
- A worker is suspected of causing or contributing to a railroad accident.
- A worker has been directly involved in any of a variety of rule violations, including speeding by more than 10 m.p.h. or ignoring a stop signal.