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UNION AWAITS DRUG-SCREENING VERDICT

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When union workers learned in mid-1986 that Amoco Oil Co. planned to institute a drug and alcohol screening program at their residential refinery, they went straight to the bargaining committee.

Three years later, Local 2-286 of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers has negotiated another contract, seen its case through two courts and remains one of the few, if not the only, chapters that still hasn't submitted to a companywide testing program it considers an invasion of privacy."We were told they were going to instigate a drug program, and the members felt it was wrong," said former local president Duane Letham.

"First off, because what they were saying interfered with our private lives and, second, because we had a contract in place at the time, and we felt the company didn't have the right to do it without negotiation," he said.

Discussions came to an impasse that year, although a new two-year contract that did not address the program was reached in 1988.

In the interim, Local 2-286 went to U.S. District Court for a temporary injunction barring the screenings until an arbitrator had considered the case, said union attorney Arthur Sandack.

"Essentially, they tried to initiate the drug-screening program during the time of the contract, a rather substantial departure than any they'd done before," he said.

Briefs were submitted last fall to the arbitrator, a law professor at UCLA, but he has yet to render a verdict. Meantime, Amoco appealed the injunction to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, only to be rebuffed in a ruling last month.

The company had sought to implement the program while the issue was in arbitration, but the appellate court said workers would suffer irreparable damages if the arbitrator ruled for them.

"An arbitrator cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together again once a person has been required to submit to this drug-screening process," Sandack said. "Their privacy has been violated, and there's a great risk of injury to their reputation."

But for Kenneth B. Dirks, manager of human resources at the 80-year-old refinery nestled among the older homes of Salt Lake's northwest district, the screening program is an important tool in preventing drug- or alcohol-related accidents.

He acknowledges there have been no such incidents "that I'm aware of, let's put it that way."

Nevertheless, he said, "Our intent is to maintain and provide a safe working environment for employees as well as our capital. There is the constant possibility of a fire or explosion that not only could injure employees, but the people in the neighborhood."

While the 122 union members still have not submitted to the tests, the remainder of the 42,000-barrel-a-day refinery's 200 employees have done so since 1986, Dirks said. So have the refinery's truck drivers, most of them members of the Teamsters union.

Other locals in Amoco's five other refineries have protested the policy, Dirks noted, but arbitrators have ruled in favor of the company in virtually every case.