Builders and Unions Reach Accord on Drug Testing


Four Southern California construction associations and four building trades unions representing more than 100,000 workers said Wednesday they have reached agreement on drug testing of workers who are observed to be acting suspiciously on the job.

The agreement, spearheaded by the Associated General Contractors of California and covering union construction jobs in 11 counties, is among an increasing number of multi-employer pacts in the United States that are gradually breaking down union resistance to drug testing by assuring safeguards against arbitrary use.

Glenn Rothner, a labor law attorney who represented the Southern California District Council of Laborers in negotiations leading to the agreement, said it offers more protection of worker rights than numerous drug-testing programs that have been instituted by individual contractors.


The agreement allows contractors to require drug tests for “reasonable cause,” based on observation of on-the-job behavior. It requires a second, confirming test of all samples and allows employees discharged for positive tests to appeal through the union grievance process.

“We feel it’s a major step,” said Ken Perry, the Associated General Contractors’ industrial relations director for Southern California, who negotiated the agreement. “There is recognition among unions that what we’re talking about is job-site safety.”

Private employers are free to require any drug testing they want. More than 20% of all companies now test for drugs, according to a 1988 Labor Department study.

But in unionized companies, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that employers cannot begin drug-testing programs without first negotiating the subject with their unions. (Drug testing of job applicants does not require such negotiation.)

Unions have complained that many drug-testing programs demanded by employers lack protection of employee privacy, do not require adequate confirmation of the tests or permit testing in too many circumstances, including periodic random testing without cause. In some cases unions have alleged that employers began programs without consultation.

These objections are increasing because more private employers are introducing drug testing as government agencies begin to require it. “Private employers are getting into the act, saying they’re doing it defensively, because all of the druggies--applicants who can’t get past the government tests--are now coming to them for jobs,” said an official of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ national office.


The Southern California agreement, which Rothner said is the first agreement on drug-testing standards reached between coalitions of management and labor in the region, takes effect today.

It will be used by members of the Associated General Contractors, the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California, the Engineering Contractors Assn. and the Southern California Contractors Assn. The four participating unions include the council of laborers, the Southern California Conference of Carpenters, the Eleven Southern California Counties Cement Masons and Teamsters Joint Council 42. Unions representing ironworkers and equipment-operating engineers also were solicited but chose not to sign the agreement.

A key compromise in the agreement was the willingness of the contractors groups to not require the right to test workers randomly. Testing will be restricted to workers whose behavior gives a supervisor and a second observing individual reasonable cause to suspect the worker is “impaired from performing” his or her job. This standard also will be applied to decisions on whether to test for drugs in the wake of accidents. Some employers have preferred to test all employees involved in accidents, regardless of circumstances.

Workers taken off the job after testing positive will be rehired if they go through a rehabilitation program and if work is available in their specialty.

“I don’t think you’ll find anybody in our unions opposed to drug testing,” said Jerry Cremins, president of the California Building and Construction Trades Council. “What they’re afraid of is abuses in the system.”