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Motor Vehicle Division

Progress Made
In Drug and Alcohol Testing

(This article first appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

After a long and arduous struggle, the USPS has published “Drug and Alcohol Testing of Employees With a Commercial Driver’s License,” a revised version of a Management Instruction. We consider the publication of this new MI (PO-720-95-3) a real victory for the MVS division, as the revisions include many changes we sought. It required years of debate with the USPS.

The new MI reflects a revised policy that requires the Postal Service to give motor vehicle drivers and tractor-trailer operators who fail a drug test an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves and return to their duties.

The revised policy requires management to offer employees who fail a drug test a Last Chance Agreement that stipulates the employee must complete a rehabilitation program and pass another drug test before returning to duty.

Once the employee returns to work, he or she will be placed in a special pool for extra monitoring, which is what happens now in cases where employees who fail drug tests are given a last-chance opportunity to return to work.

Because postal employees have among the lowest rates of positive drug tests in the safety-sensitive transportation industry, the APWU was able to negotiate these provisions, which ensure that every employee is afforded at least one last chance following a positive drug test. (The DOT would remove from safety-sensitive employment any worker who engages in illegal drug use, whether or not they are on the clock at the time of the drug use.)

Differences in Testing

Whereas breath tests can detect alcohol blood levels for a relatively short period of time, drugs can be detected long after their initial use. As a result, employees may test positive for drugs even if they are not impaired at the time of the test; additionally, they may test positive for drugs that are found in prescription and over-the-counter medication.

The new rules represent a big step forward: They prevent postal officials from firing employees for first-time positive tests. The old language permitted management to discharge employees, although it was not required.

Furthermore, in many areas, offering employees a last chance agreement was the past practice, and the new language prevents management from attempting to rewrite agreements or ignore past practices at a particular installation.

While the APWU opposes the use of illegal drugs, we don’t believe a single mistake should cost a postal employee his or her career. We believe employees who fail a single drug test should have the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. This attitude is consistent with Part IV of the 1991 Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act.

Not a ‘Free Pass’

Although the new Management Instruction language allows for a “last chance,” postal employees should not consider this a free pass. Plain and simple: No one should operate a motor vehicle — commercial or private — while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

If you have a drug or alcohol problem, you should contact the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which has been instrumental in assisting many employees with drug and alcohol problems: Think of it as insurance against losing your source of income due to a failed drug or alcohol test.

There is some additional new language in the MI related to making employees “whole” if they are placed off the clock but return to duty following a negative test for drugs or alcohol. These cases typically arise following tests for “probable cause” or when a second test on a split sample returns as negative. Being made whole in these cases generally means that the employee will be paid for the entire time he or she was off the clock. We negotiated specific language to be included in Last Chance Agreements so that all such agreements nationwide contain the same provisions. They apply only to employees who return to duty after failing a drug test or refusing to take a drug test.

We hope that the new Management Instruction will result in a much smoother transition for these employees when they to return to their postal positions.

Observed Testing

The DOT also revised drug-testing rules in July 2009, regarding direct observation (DO) tests, and the criteria for when this kind of test is to be implemented. Under the DOT rules, observed tests are required in instances where the tested party has attempted to adulterate or substitute a urine sample, or has otherwise made an effort to alter or sabotage the test. This is not an unreasonable action on the part of the DOT.

The USPS did not indicate that it has identified a problem in this area, nor did it cite any instances of postal employees substituting or altering samples during drug screenings. But management claims it has adopted the changes based on its awareness of products that can be ingested or added to urine samples that may change the results of drug tests and because it is voluntarily mirroring DOT rules.

We don’t know whether such products are effective, and do not condone their use. And since we certainly do not want employees who operate vehicles to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol, we do not object to such precautionary measures.

Electric Postal Vehicles

In December, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) introduced legislation (H.R. 4399) that would fund the acquisition of 20,000 electric vans, primarily for use by Letter Carriers. Electric vehicles are likely the wave of the future for their short trips. A “clean” form of transportation, they would be relatively cheap to operate, especially since the USPS should be able to negotiate reduced off-peak (late evening or early morning) rates for “re-fueling,” or charging the vehicles’ batteries.

Due to limitations on power and duration of use, electricity likely will never be the main energy source for other postal vehicles. And even though electric-vehicle engines are relatively simple compared with conventional internal combustion engines, USPS mechanics and technicians nonetheless will need training to service them properly.

As such, we are working closely with the APWU Legislative & Political Department to ensure that electric vehicle legislation includes a requirement to provide training for Vehicle Maintenance Services employees.

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