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Proposed Federal Drug Testing Changes Could Imperil Transportation Workers

By Admin

Reported by Gabrielle Gurley for The American Prospect.

The transportation workforce instability and a worker-friendly job market both brought on by COVID show no signs of letting up. Flight attendants flee regional carriers for higher pay, better routes, and other perks with legacy airlines. Bus drivers quit in droves, forcing transit systems to offer signing bonuses, while merchant marine crews grapple with endless weeks working on ships waiting to get into clogged ports. What could make this work more unsettling? A proposed Department of Health and Human Services pre-employment drug testing regime that could render millions of employees in safety-sensitive positions—pilots, flight attendants, railway engineers, mariners, and truckers and others—ineligible for work or send them out of the industry altogether.

The transportation sector currently has some of the toughest and most intrusive drug screening regulations in the country. Pre-employment drug testing is often a standard feature of many of these jobs: More than 12 million workers in safety-sensitive positions undergo Department of Transportation screening for amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana (THC), opioids, and phencyclidine (PCP). Now, proposed new rules would make missing a test the same as flunking it and pose other hazards to job applicants in the transportation sector.

Under the proposed HHS pre-employment screening rule, a job seeker who fails to show up for a drug test registers as having refused to take the test, which, in turn, would be designated as a positive drug test result. This “positive test”—even if that person decided not to take the job associated and even though no actual test was ever taken—compromises current and future job prospects. (The Department of Transportation adopts HHS scientific rules for drug testing, but can opt out of certain non-medical ones. DOT drug screenings are above and beyond any screenings that an employee’s firm also requires.)

“Where it becomes complicated is now you have that in your record,” says Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, which commented on the proposed rules. “So, that when you’re applying for the next job, [an employer] could look at that and [say] well, this might not be a person we want to hire because they’ve already refused one drug test.”

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