PUBLIC HEARINGS AT CAPITOL
Comments are mixed on drug-test
Some see the plan to beef up Iowas law as vital to workplace safety; others say it threatens individuals rights.
By HEATHER WIESE
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
Business leaders, union representatives and private citizens voiced a mix of approval and concern over the proposed workplace drug-testing law during a public hearing at the Capitol Thursday night.
The bill, approved Tuesday by the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, would allow employers to conduct unannounced drug or alcohol tests, which supporters say would strengthen the current law adopted in 1987.
In addition, the bill would give employers the option of taking disciplinary actions, ranging from requiring workers to enroll in rehabilitation programs to termination.
Sharon Louis-Goldford, an employee of Mercy Hospital Medical Center, said drug testing is vital and necessary for the safety of patients.
"How can we provide a safe environment when we don't know who did coke the night before?" she asked the audience of more than 50 citizens and legislators.
She said that 44 people have tested positive during preemployment drug screening at Mercy, demonstrating that there are "still people who are willing to try to beat the system in order to get a job."
Ron Smith, human resources director for Lennox industries Inc. in Marshalltown, said the bill goes beyond "past attempts of piecemeal fixes to an old quilt."
The bill "provides employers and employees with a reasonable process to address drug abuse in the workplace ... by eliminating the arbitrary and ambiguous wording of the current law," he said. However, record keeping should be restricted to protect personal rights, he said.
Richard Graham, an unemployed truck driver, spoke from firsthand experience about the effect drug testing can have. After 22 years of service without an accident or a speeding ticket, Graham said he was fired following a random drug test that came back positive in April 1996.
Graham, who said he has never taken methamphetamines, took a second test using a hair sample that showed he was not taking drugs. His company rehired him, and then fired him again in September.
"They fired me again, based on the same test in April," he said. The only reason given to Graham was that the company that conducted the first test said it never made mistakes, he said. Since then, Graham said he has not been able to find work, because the failed drug test follows him wherever he applies for a job.
"This has put a hardship on me ... on my family. It has caused me to be behind on my mortgage payments and other bills," he said.
Several union members and private citizens were also concerned that the bill would violate basic human rights.
The full House will debate the bill to expand drug-testing authority next week.
Des Moines Register, February 21, 1997