TTC board approves random alcohol and drug testing for employees

The Toronto Transit Commission will move forward with implementing random drug testing for employees, a decision that was first approved in 2011 but has since been been blocked and opposed by the employee union.

Employees won't be asked to 'pee in a cup,' TTC spokesperon says

The TTC board has approved the funding needed to administer random alcohol and drug tests on employees. (Michelle Cheung/CBC)

The Toronto Transit Commission will move forward with implementing random alcohol and drug testing for employees, a decision that was first approved in 2011, but has since been been blocked and opposed by the union representing TTC employees.

In a letter sent to employees on Tuesday morning, TTC CEO Andy Byford said the board approved the decision to fund the random drug tests and finalize the program.

Byford clarified in the employee memo that the random testing would only look for impairment while the employee is at work.

"What you do on your own time is none of our business so long as it doesn't affect your ability to do your job. What you do at work however is very much our business," the email reads.

"Your safety, your co-workers' safety, the safety of our customers and all road users is paramount."

In 2014, there were 15 total incidents of TTC impairment or refusal by an employee to take a test. In 2015, that number went up to 57, according to TTC Spokesperson Brad Ross. In the first three months of 2016 alone, there have already been 28 incidents. 

"We came back to our board, because we are seeing the number of incidents rise," said Ross.

Union opposes testing

Byford also wrote that someone from outside the TTC will be brought in to do the testing.

"We need to hire a third party to administer the program and do the testing to ensure there is true randomness," Ross said. 

The Amalgamated Transit Union opposes all drug testing, and so far has managed to block the random tests amid ongoing arbitration with TTC management for four years. 

"The reality is this policy doesn't work," said Bob Kinnear, president of the union.

"All it does is invade people's privacy and we are against it."

According to Byford, the arbitration process is taking too long to conclude and the TTC is also planning on asking the province to "consider legislation making random testing mandatory for public transit agencies, as is the case in the United States."

Since 2010, TTC officials have been able to administer tests on employees they have reasonable cause to believe may be impaired at work, if any prior incidents or behaviour suggest they might be.

'Not telling anybody to pee in a cup'

Those subjected to the tests include workers in positions that may affect customer or employee safety, such as operators, maintenance staff, and certain supervisors.

Even executives or management staff, including both Byford and Ross, may be tested.

A breathalyzer will be used to test for alcohol and an oral swab will be used to test for drugs and prohibited substances like marijuana or cocaine. 

The technology will only determine whether or not the employee is impaired at that present time, Ross added. 

"We're not telling anybody to pee in a cup. We are not testing to see if you smoked a joint last night or last weekend or whether you had a drink last night," he said. 

Real issue is sleep deprivation

Kinnear said that he does not trust the tests the TTC hopes to administer and that the real problem that transit operators face is sleep deprivation.

"All you have to do is Google drug and alcohol testing and you'll find numerous horror stories of clinics conducting inaccurate tests," he said, adding that he doesn't have faith in the TTC's system or in Byford.   

"Sleep deprivation is biggest challenge to our people and if you want to talk about safety, let's be honest and talk about the real issues," he said. 

With files from Marivel Taruc