Teck Resources ordered to stop random drug testing at B.C. coal mines

An arbitrator has ruled that Teck Resources Ltd. must stop random drug and alcohol testing of workers at its B.C. coal mines, calling the tests 'serious intrusions into their rights.'

Union says company has randomly tested workers for more than 5 years, calls it an intrusion

B.C.'s biggest mining company started randomly testing workers for drugs and alcohol in 2012.

Teck Resources Ltd. has been ordered by an arbitrator to stop random drug and alcohol testing on workers at all of its B.C. coal mines, effective immediately.

The union representing the workers says such testing — which it calls "an intrusion into workers' rights" — has gone on for more than five years.

"[Teck] apparently pulled names out of a hat somehow and would select people and then force them to go into a random drug and alcohol test," said Alex Hanson, president of United Steelworkers Local 9346. 

"We have been against this right from the outset."

Hanson said Teck never showed just cause, but instead tested workers "based on a perceived fear that they have."

No general problem of drug impairment

In 2013, Teck said it would keep randomly testing workers for drugs and alcohol even though the Supreme Court called the practice "unreasonable" in a ruling in New Brunswick.

This week, arbitrator John Kinzie sided with the workers, ruling that the company's testing is not sufficient enough to justify serious intrusions into coal miners' rights.

"There is not a corresponding 'general' problem in those workplaces with employees being under the influence of, or impaired by, drugs or alcohol sufficient enough to justify those serious intrusions into their rights," Kinzie said as part of his decision.

Teck does pre-employment drug screening as well as post-incident testing, which both the union and the arbitrator agree are justified.

Separately, the company is also dealing with concerns from workers about a series of accidents and explosions at its Elkview mine, including a recent incident Teck calls "a significant pressure event."

Teck is reviewing decision

The company did not agree to an interview, but sent an emailed statement following the ruling about drug testing.

Workers have recently expressed safety concerns following a series of accidents and explosions at Teck's Elkview mine. (Josh Pagé/CBC)

"At Teck, safety is a core value and we are committed to ensuring a safe work environment for our people," wrote Chris Stannell, communications specialist with Teck.

"Random testing stopped at Teck's Elk Valley mine sites following the decision."

"Teck is reviewing the decision with council before determining next steps," said the statement.

Hanson said workers are pleased with the ruling and the union will be pursuing possible compensation for affected employees.

In December, an Alberta judge ordered oilsands giant Suncor not to proceed with plans to start random drug testing of its employees.

A Suncor spokesperson said, in that case, the company was unhappy with the ruling and would file an immediate appeal.

In Dec. 2017, an Alberta judge issued an injunction against random drug tests for Suncor employees. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

With files from CBC's Bob Keating.

About the Author

Jaimie Kehler

Jaimie Kehler is a web writer, producer and broadcaster based in Kelowna, B.C. She has also worked for CBC News in Toronto and Ottawa. To contact her with a story, email jaimie.kehler@cbc.ca.