Drug Testing Voted for 'Safety-Sensitive' Jobs : Employment: L.A. council unanimously passes policy of screening applicants for wider range of city positions.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to begin pre-employment drug testing for applicants for "safety-sensitive" city jobs.

Under the new policy, the city will screen for drug use an estimated 3,000 applicants for a range of positions, including ambulance drivers, carpenters, helicopter pilots and animal control officers.

At present, only prospective police officers and some Department of Water and Power job applicants undergo drug testing.

Pre-employment testing has become widespread among private employers in recent years but has been a matter of controversy at City Hall since it was first proposed in 1987. At the time, union representatives and civil liberties groups objected strongly to the measure.

However, court cases decided since then have generally approved of drug-testing for positions defined as safety-sensitive, those in which lives could be endangered by an impaired worker, said Councilwoman Joy Picus, who sponsored the measure.

"This program has all kinds of safeguards in it," Picus said. She said urine samples from job applicants will be tracked "very, very carefully," adding that the ordinance provides for retesting and appeal procedures.

The council approved the ordinance in a unanimous vote and without debate. It now goes to Mayor Tom Bradley. A spokesman declined to comment on Bradley's position, saying the mayor is out of town.

In all, 113 city job classifications are included in the drug-testing ordinance.

Glenn Rothner, legal counsel for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Tuesday that the union still objects to the testing but added that court cases over the last two years have given employers the right to screen applicants for safety-sensitive positions.

Rothner said the city's definition of safety-sensitive is "over-broad," and as a result the city may run into legal trouble with some of the jobs it has placed in that category. Under the ordinance, some secretaries could fall under that classification, he said.

"There still is no demonstrated need for this kind of testing," Rothner said. "The council is simply a fairly late entrant into this dash for drug testing as a cure-all for what is ailing their work forces."

Los Angeles Police Department officials have asked the Police Protective League, the city's largest police union, to agree to a mandatory random drug-testing program for all sworn police officers. Picus said Tuesday that such random tests for all city employees is the "next step" and will be considered by the City Council.

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