Nfld. & Labrador

Marine Atlantic's random alcohol tests unfairly targeting Unifor members, says union

Unifor employees who work at Marine Atlantic say they are being arbitrarily targeted for random alcohol tests.

Unifor says Marine Atlantic's testing of some employees but not others disrespects the workers and the law

Unifor members working on Marine Atlantic ferries say they're being unfairly targeted for random alcohol testing. (Marine Atlantic)

Unifor members aboard Marine Atlantic ferries say they are being unfairly targeted by their employer for invasive and illegal alcohol tests.

In a letter to the editor published in the St. John's Telegram on Saturday, Linda MacNeil, the private sector union's Atlantic regional director, said random alcohol testing violates their members' privacy without cause or legal basis.

"Our members are being treated differently than other employees at Marine Atlantic," MacNeil told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning on Wednesday. "And we certainly have a problem with that."

Linda MacNeil, Unifor's Atlantic regional director, says the testing is a violation of Unifor members' privacy. (Submitted by Unifor)

In April, a labour arbitrator ruled that Marine Atlantic's random testing of Canadian Merchant Service Guild members was a violation of their privacy. The corporation stopped the practice among guild members, but MacNeil says they continue to randomly test members of Unifor locals 4285 and 4286 in the same workplace.

"Unifor members are working side by side with those same employees, yet they are still being targeted for the random testing," said MacNeil. "If it's an invasion of privacy for one group, obviously logic states it should apply to all employees."

Marine Atlantic has been conducting random alcohol tests since 2003 as part of its drug and alcohol policy. MacNeil says alcohol testing is appropriate where there is reasonable cause, but she says this isn't the case at Marine Atlantic. MacNeil says that of the more than 3,000 random tests completed between 2003 and 2017, only a few cases have been positive.

Darrell Mercer, spokesperson for Marine Atlantic, says the corporation can't stop random alcohol testing until other options are established. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Marine Atlantic spokesperson Darrell Mercer told CBC's Newfoundland Morning the corporation is working toward eliminating random testing. But before they end the practice, he added, they have to make sure there are other options in place to maintain their zero-tolerance policy for alcohol.

"Safety continues to be the highest priority for Marine Atlantic," said Mercer. "We know that privacy regulations and privacy provisions have changed through the years, but we don't want to just stop [the random testing] and not have anything in place."

Mercer says the corporation hopes to work with Unifor to decide what other solutions are available, including education and awareness for employees or collaboration with addictions programs. 

For MacNeil, the solution is simple: Marine Atlantic should stop the random testing for Unifor members as they did for the guild members.

"Marine Atlantic has to apply that same logic to Unifor members and cease the random testing," she said. "That's not to say the employer can't have a policy. Of course they can, but it should not include random testing."

If the random testing continues, MacNeil says the union will take its response beyond formal complaints.

"Put yourself in our members' shoes. You're working side by side with someone from the guild, yet they're exempt from any random testing. There's no logical reason why they shouldn't cease the random testing for our members as well."

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Jessica Singer is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador. You can reach her at


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