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Union Sues to End Drug Testing at Arms Firm

Times Labor Writer

In one of the first lawsuits of its kind in the nation, the International Assn. of Machinists filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Wednesday seeking to end a mandatory drug testing program at General Dynamics Corp.'s Pomona division.

The suit alleges that the company policy violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the California Constitution’s right of privacy protections, the California Medical Confidentiality Act and the collective bargaining agreement between the company and 3,200 workers at three General Dynamics’ plants in Pomona, Diamond Bar and Rancho Cucamonga who are represented by the machinists’ union.

A spokesman for General Dynamics said the company would not comment on the suit since it had not yet seen the complaint, nor would it comment on reasons for the drug testing program.

Predicts Many Suits

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A national authority on employees’ workplace rights predicted that many similar suits will be filed in the next few years as increasing numbers of companies move to test employees or prospective employees for drug use.

“In the next two, three, four years, we’ll see hundreds of different arguments, arbitrations, lawsuits, all kinds of things, with regard to company drug testing,” said Prof. Clyde Summers of the University of Pennsylvania. “I think a lot of unions will raise a real fuss.”

Some already have. Last July, the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, which represents 1,500 employees at an Amoco Corp. refinery in Texas City, Tex., secured a court order blocking a drug-testing program. Amoco agreed to suspend the program and to negotiate a compromise procedure with the union.

Four unions representing 100,000 railway workers are challenging drug-testing procedures implemented by the Federal Railway Administration last year. A federal district judge in San Francisco upheld the procedures but an appeal is pending. The Major League Baseball Players Assn. has challenged drug-testing clauses in player contracts and the National Football League Players Assn. opposes mandatory testing.

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Drug tests of one kind or another are used by about one-fourth of the large industrial companies in the United States, and about 5 million persons were tested under these programs last year. Corporate officials say that identifying drug users can prevent accidents and help raise productivity.

General Dynamics, which manufactures missiles at the plants in Pomona, Diamond Bar and Rancho Cucamonga, instituted its drug-testing policy last July, according to the suit. The suit asserts that the company has taken the position that it can test any employee returning from layoff, prolonged leave of absence, or discipline--including an employee who was reinstated after it was determined in a grievance hearing that the person had been unjustly terminated.

Fears Added Testing

“Since beginning the testing over the objection of the union, General Dynamics has expanded the screening,” said Ellen Greenstone, the Los Angeles attorney who filed the suit. “The union believes General Dynamics intends to increase its mandatory screening program to include all employees.”

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The suit seeks an injunction against the testing and damages for individual employees. Greenstone said about 100 workers already had been adversely affected by the program.

“We as an organization do not condone drug use or alcohol abuse,” said Chuck Cornett, business representative for the machinists’ union in Ontario. “However, the record of inaccuracies in urinalysis tests causes us great concern that people who had never been involved with drugs at any time could test positive.”

Cornett cited one example of an employee who, he asserted, was unfairly victimized by the General Dynamics program. He said a woman initially was discharged for poor attendance but was reinstated after a grievance hearing. The woman then submitted to a company urinalysis test. “The test came back positive and she was terminated,” Cornett said.

Passed Second Test

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He said the woman then had a blood test and a urine test performed by her own doctor conducted under laboratory conditions, and the tests were negative. He said General Dynamics refused to accept the additional tests, refused the employee’s offer to take a second test administered by a company doctor and refused to process a grievance on the issue.

“The employees and the union have no access to monitor the quality of the testing nor the accuracy of the results,” Greenstone said.

The suit asserts that the company has been testing people without any indication in their work performance that they are drug users or without any other probable cause. Cornett said none of the people tested thus far were persons who had recently been arrested for drug violations.


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