Unifor has filed for an injunction to prevent Suncor from randomly drug and alcohol testing its members working in the Oilsands. The union has also filed for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to uphold the arbitration board’s ban on random testing.
“Random drug testing of workers that have done nothing wrong is a violation of their basic rights,” said Ken Smith, President of Unifor Local 707A. “We will work with Suncor to achieve the highest possible levels of workplace safety with education and prevention, not invasive medical procedures.”
In recent days misinformation has circulated about Suncor workers. Unifor offers the following information to clear up the facts.
Myth: Suncor workers are resisting drug and alcohol testing at work.
Fact: Suncor employees are already subjected to much more alcohol and drug testing than are Albertan drivers. Suncor tests following virtually every workplace incident, regardless of how minor. In contrast, the police can only demand that a driver submit to drug and alcohol testing if the officer has reasonable grounds to believe the driver is impaired.
Myth: Suncor’s drug and alcohol testing is scientifically reliable.
Fact: The test performed by Suncor, “urinalysis”, cannot determine whether a person was impaired by drugs at the time the urine sample was taken. It only shows that the person was exposed to drugs at some time in the past.
Myth: Positive drug tests at Suncor’s sites are high.
Fact: Given the number of drug and alcohol tests Suncor already performs and that there are roughly 13,000 workers at Suncor’s Oilsands operations, the positive testing rates are very low.
Myth: The outcome of this court case will only apply to Suncor’s Oilsands employees.
Fact: This case will set a precedent that could ultimately affect numerous safety-sensitive Canadian workplaces.
Myth: Drug and alcohol testing at Suncor is straightforward.
Fact: Suncor does not perform alcohol and drug tests in the same was as such tests are performed at the request of one’s family doctor. From the time the test is ordered, the worker is detained and not allowed to eat, drink, or use the bathroom. Sometimes the worker is detained for up to four hours.
Myth: Suncor’s desire to expand testing to include randomized testing is a reasonable medical requirement and is consistent with practices in other sectors.
Fact: The Supreme Court of Canada has held that drug and alcohol testing, even testing of a person accused of a crime, is “highly intrusive” and must be subject to strict standards.
When Suncor announced the unilateral implementation of random drug and alcohol testing in its Oilsands operations in 2012, Unifor filed a grievance on behalf of its members and applied for an injunction. An Arbitration Panel later ruled that random testing violates workers’ fundamental rights of privacy, dignity, and bodily integrity, and that Suncor had failed to justify such testing.
While the Alberta Court of Appeal set aside the arbitration board’s decision, the Court did not endorse random testing and said it would be inappropriate for it to decide the issue. Instead, the Court disagreed with the arbitration board’s statement of a legal test and decided the union’s grievance should be heard by a new arbitration board.
Suncor already has in place a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy that included Post-Incident and Reasonable Cause testing, which is not affected by the ongoing litigation.
“There is no evidence that random testing improves safety, which is why Unifor is committed to more reliable methods to keep our members safe on the job while respecting the dignity of our members,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor’s National President.