Safety statistics concerning the construction trades are rarely separated into union and non-union segments, so it is difficult for onlookers to witness the safety benefits that come from union membership on paper. However, as People’s World recently pointed out, one area in which the difference is apparent is in drug testing.
In May, when the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) announced that they would begin a drug-free workplace program that revolved around signing an online pledge, it became clear that their standards are not nearly as stringent as unions’, many of which have had hardline drug-free initiatives in place since the 1980’s:
On May 9, the Associated General Contractors of America sent out a news release that five of the nation’s largest construction trade associations teamed up to form the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace.
The coalition has a painfully useless acronym (CCDAFW) and as it turns out, pain-free requirements for member contractors to give little more than lip service to a safer workplace. The group is comprised of the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), the Associated General Contractors, the Construction Industry Round Table (CIRT), Construction Users’ Roundtable and Women Construction Owners & Executives.
The coalition’s mission is “to create a drug- and alcohol-free construction industry by providing companies and organizations with the resources necessary to implement drug- and alcohol-free policies into their business practices.”
Any organization that is trying to combat drug and alcohol abuse in order to boost job site safety should be applauded, but as the article’s author notes: “Sounds impressive. But practically speaking, how they gonna do that?”
It’s true, how would the AGC and ABC possibly be able to implement such a policy? An online pledge amounts to little more than an anonymous click of the mouse. Through this lens it becomes clear that this is more of a PR move than an actual safety policy. Many unions, on the other hand, have had actual drug-fighting programs in place for over 2 decades:
Now, compare those ridiculously empty words with what the union construction sector has been doing in Michigan since 1987 when MUST (Management and Unions Serving Together) was started.
MUST was formed following an expressed desire from employers to develop a standardized method of testing construction workers for drugs and alcohol. Standardized safety training modules came later. It wasn’t a smooth process, but unions eventually saw they could provide added value to employers and owners who recognized the promotion of on-the-job safety as both a moral duty and economic benefit.
Last year alone MUST administered 25,167 drug tests, and 127,649 safety tests. That’s a little more than sponsoring an online petition.
MUST is a real anti-drug policy with real consequences. Patrick Devlin, Secretary-Treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, spoke about the difficulties in setting up a program that has actual substance (no pun intended):
“We had to overcome a lot of resistance as the MUST program was being set up. It’s a lot easier to talk than it is to take action when it comes to drug and alcohol testing and safety training.
“You’re not going to see this kind of program much on the nonunion side because it’s expensive. The bottom line is that nonunion employers take online pledges to improve safety. Union members and employers actively work together to improve safety.”