New Brunswick

Irving fights to test workers for alcohol

The Irving Pulp and Paper Mill is contesting an arbitrator's ruling that it cannot randomly test its workers for alcohol.

The Irving Pulp and Paper Mill is contesting an arbitrator's ruling that it cannot randomly test its workers for alcohol.

Unionized workers at the Irving Pulp and Paper Mill in Saint John grieved the company's policy of random testing, which began in 2006, and won in arbitration.

Irving contends the arbitrator erred in making his decision and has asked for a judicial review.

'The union had grieved the testing provisions of the company’s alcohol and drug policy. The policy is in place to ensure the highest standards of safety and environmental performance," said Geoff Britt, a company spokesman.

"The matter went to arbitration and a decision was made. We believe the arbitrator erred in making his decision. We’ve asked for a judicial review to decide the matter. The case was heard today. As this is before the court, we will respect the process, and await the judge's decision."

Court of Queen's Bench Justice William Grant heard arguments on the random alcohol testing policy on Wednesday and will issue a ruling at a later date.

The random testing started in 2006, when a company computer system would pull up names and then policy administrators had the selected staff take a breathalyzer.

It wasn't long before the mill's union filed a grievance against the Irving company for the tests.

Mike MacMullin, the union local's president, said the policy is a drastic violation of an individual's rights.

"In the court of law, you're presumed innocent until proven guilty and it was the other away around," MacMullin said.

"They were proven guilty until they could prove they were innocent and it was a violation." 

An arbitrator heard the appeal in January 2009 and in November the union's position was endorsed. The arbitrator determined random testing was intrusive and unnecessary.

MacMullin said staff were pleased with the arbitrator's findings.

"It's showing we have some rights, hopefully it stands," MacMullin said.

William Goss, the company's lawyer, told the court the mill's jobsite is heavy industry and any type of malfunction could jeopardize staff, operations or the environment.

Goss said the purpose of the policy is not to "catch" anyone, but to deter people from drinking on the job and promote a safer workplace.

The company lawyer also argued that the arbitrator failed to consider important evidence and exhibits during the hearing.

The union maintains workers have given the company no reason to assume they're using alcohol at work.

Alcohol testing is still happening at the mill, but is not random.

If there are suspicions that an employee is drinking on the job, he or she will go through a test.