Toronto

Union head slams TTC's random drug testing decision as 'feel-good measure'

The head of the union representing transit workers is slamming the Toronto Transit Commission over its decision to conduct random drug and alcohol testing among its employees, calling it a “feel-good measure” that overlooks the real cause of impairment among drivers, which they say is sleep deprivation.

Real cause of driver impairment is a lack of sleep from sometimes 70-hour work weeks: Bob Kinnear

The TTC says it has approved a plan to implement random drug and alcohol testing amongst its drivers and says the details will be made public in two to three weeks. (J.P. Moczulski/Canadian Press)

The head of the union representing transit workers is slamming the Toronto Transit Commission over its decision to conduct random drug and alcohol testing among its employees, calling it a "feel-good measure" that overlooks the real cause of impairment among drivers, which they say is sleep deprivation.

Bob Kinnear, head of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, made his case at a TTC board meeting Wednesday, arguing the testing the board agreed in April to implement only serves to give the public a false sense of security.

But despite Kinnear's presentation, the board approved the plan to go ahead with the testing, which would include oral swabbing for illicit drug use and breathalyzer tests for alcohol levels.

"This is providing the public with a false sense of security," Kinnear told CBC Toronto.

​The union head argued there is no systemic problem of illicit drug use by transit vehicle operators and that to move ahead with the random testing would contravene a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that such a measure would have a "severe" impact on employee privacy.

Union head says real danger lies in split shifts, long hours

In its ruling, the court said a dangerous workplace is not automatic justification for random testing and that the measure should only be permitted in specific circumstances, such as when an employee returns to work after treatment for substance abuse, or if there are reasonable grounds to believe an employee was impaired while on duty.

"Even if there is only one person who might be out there operating a vehicle … under the influence of drugs or alcohol, I feel it is my duty to take action," TTC CEO Andy Byford told CBC Toronto.

Union leader Bob Kinnear made his case at a TTC board meeting Wednesday, arguing the testing, which the board agreed in April to implement, only serves to give the public a false sense of security. (CBC)

According to TTC spokesperson Brad Ross, there have been 291 incidents of impairment or refusal by a TTC employee to take a test since 2010.

But Kinnear argued the real danger to driver and passenger safety stems from long hours and split-shifts rather than drug or alcohol use, saying drivers often work up to 70 hours per week. Moreover, he said, testing will unfairly detect drugs ingested outside of work hours for any reason, even if legitimate.

'Someone may have been smoking something'

Kinnear also suggested the testing and time taken to conduct it would be costly and would far exceed the annual $1.3 million that the TTC has allocated for the program in its 2017 operating budget.

"Someone may have been smoking something if they think that it's only going to be $1.3 million dollars," said Kinnear.

"Even if there is only one person who might be out there operating a vehicle… under the influence of drugs or alcohol, I feel it is my duty to take action," TTC CEO Andy Byford told CBC Toronto. (CBC)

Instead, the union head said he wants to see the TTC consider the use of optical scanners that would measure drivers' eye reflexes to test for impairment of any kind, including from a lack of sleep.

Byford argues there are clear rules about how many hours drivers can work and that the onus lies on the employee to report if they do not feel fit for duty.  

The TTC head said he wants to implement the program as soon as possible. The plan will be made public in two to three weeks.

With files from Ali Chiasson

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