Most of us accept the necessity of drug and alcohol testing, and agree that safety-sensitive transit workers should not be performing their duties with drugs or alcohol in their systems. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) sounds like a good idea at first -- counseling to help employees who have problems with drugs and alcohol so they can stop abusing these substances and be able to improve their job performance and their personal lives. But the sad reality is that Appendix E-2 (and E-1) of the present contract have allowed the EAP to become an abusive, out-of-control extension of the Department of Investigation and Discipline which is hurting far more employees than it is helping. The EAP staff are managerial employees of Transit and the decisions they make about hourly employees are not impartial or professionally justified! Many employees mandated to the EAP have no drinking/drug problem at all, but are kept out of service and in punitive "counseling" for so long that they have to go on Welfare!
A single "positive" alcohol test does not indicate "alcoholism", and no doctor would ever diagnose someone as "alcoholic" or "alcohol dependent" based on a single Breathalyzer reading. Alcoholism is a disorder with specific symptoms, and only a professional can diagnose it. The FTA regulations which all safety-sensitive transit workers are subject to specify that an employee who tests above the prohibited alcohol level of 0.04 must be "evaluated by a substance abuse professional to determine whether the employee needs help in resolving alcohol problems". An employee who is determined to not be alcoholic is only required to be removed from safety-sensitive duties for 8 hours, and until a retest shows an alcohol level below 0.02.
But Appendix E-2 of our present contract (sections 6.2 and 10.1) allows the EAP to call ALL employees who have a single trace-positive test "alcoholic", even if they have excellent attendance and operating records, and even if they submit letters from physicians, psychologists, and other professionals attesting that they are not "alcoholic" or in need of "alcoholism treatment". ALL employees who test "positive" for the first time are required by the EAP to undergo extensive hospital outpatient "treatment" for a MINIMUM of 9 months, at least 5 of which they are out of service, in a "no-pay" status. The "treatment" consists of telling the employees over and over again that they are totally powerless and unable to control themselves, and requires them to degrade and humiliate themselves by talking about very personal matters that supposedly "caused" their addiction (which most don't have!) The facilities performing this "treatment" are being paid out of Transit's operating budget (GHI covers only the first 60 days) and are under contract with Transit via the EAP to provide 9 months counseling to every such employee, regardless of clinical necessity. This is not only a waste of money (approximately $260/week for 40 weeks, = approximately $10,400 per first-time positive employee!), but may actually constitute malpractice!
Employees need protection from this abusive and degrading mislabeling as "alcoholics"! A BAC level of 0.04 can be reached by having a glass of wine with dinner. That one glass of wine results in being out of service for 6, 7 or more months and told "You'd better start admitting that you're an alcoholic and have no control over yourself." If an employee wants any kind of surgery, even a mole removal, a second opinion is required. We should definitely be entitled to a second opinion as to whether we are suffering from something that requires 9 months of "treatment"!! The EAP manager and staff are not doctors or psychologists, and have no medical qualifications; how can they be allowed to overrule a physician?
People make mistakes and employees occasionally break rules. But there is no other rule infraction that results in an employee being called "diseased" and required to undergo unnecessary hospital treatment!
Solution: (1) Employees should undergo a legitimate evaluation for alcoholism using medical standards of diagnosis.
(2) Employees who are not suffering from clinical alcohol or drug disorders should have the "positive" reading treated as a disciplinary violation and be given a reasonable disciplinary penalty, not forced into unnecessary, expensive, and degrading "treatment".
Even if an employee is legitimately required to get counseling for drinking or drug use, why are they being kept out of service for so long? What criteria should be used for allowing an employee to return to work?
As the present contract stands (sections 6.2 and 8.3 of Appendix E-2), the EAP has TOTAL discretion over when an employee is allowed to return to work. The "conjoint" return-to-work hearings take place behind closed doors and consist of 2 EAP personnel and the employee. No recordings or minutes are made of the hearing, and the employee is not allowed ANY representation, not by the Union, not by his own doctor, no one. It's a kangaroo court! The EAP manager routinely denies back-to-work requests on the flimsiest of pretexts, despite the employee having submitted dozens of negative random urinalyses and Breathalyzers! He has told people such things as "I don't like your attitude", "If you don't believe you have a disease then you can't go back to work", and even "You'd better start saying that the EAP has helped you if you want to go back to work". Section 8.3 actually states that employees "must comply in all respects with the directions and requirements of EAP or face dismissal". This clause results in tremendous abuse! But the EAP hides behind what they call "therapeutic confidentiality" which they say protects the employee, but in reality protects the EAP from any scrutiny!
If an employee has proven that he or she has not used drugs or alcohol for 30 days, how can that employee be called "unfit for duty due to drug/alcohol abuse"? Why should an employee's personal lifestyle or beliefs be scrutinized? (It has already been ruled in Federal court that it is unconstitutional for state agencies to require anyone to attend meetings of the religious-oriented AA, NA, or other "12-step" groups or to agree with their philosophy!) The ONLY issue should be, has the employee stopped misusing drugs/alcohol?
Solution: (1) An employee should be entitled to
union representation/tape recordings at the return-to-work hearings.
(2) A clear reason should be given in writing if an employee who has attended all counseling sessions and has proven himself to be drug/alcohol free for 30 days or more is denied a return-to-work, and the employee should be able to appeal such a decision as with any other decision that keeps an employee out of service.
(3)Employees should be allowed a second opinion from a qualified professional NOT WORKING FOR TRANSIT for both diagnosis and back-to-work evaluation.