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Audits give high marks to drug-testing programs: Labor organization says results show effort is working

March 27, 2006

Owners of building projects in central Indiana need not worry about laborers from certain organizations showing up for jobs with bloodshot eyes or slurred speech.

Audits conducted on drug- and alcoholabuse testing programs operated by some of the state's labor groups confirm what most in the industry say they already knew-that the system is working.

The inspections were done at the urging of the Metro Indianapolis Coalition for Construction Safety, a local voluntary program of construction contractors, subcontractors and the people who hire them. Its mission is to eliminate construction and maintenance accidents, injuries and jobrelated illnesses.

Gary Price, coordinator of MICCS, said the audit results dispel any accusations that the drug-testing programs are a fraud.

"We were hearing a lot of rumors that substance-abuse cards were being passed out at the gates [of job sites]," Price said. "We knew that was not true. We have absolutely no concern regarding the integrity of the program."

The auditor found no evidence workers could get cards without taking tests or that they could get a second chance at a test after becoming clean-charges that had stoked the rumor mill.

The overall failure rate for members of the four organizations whose drug testing programs were audited is believed to be less than 2 percent, according to J.R. Gaylor, executive director of the Associated Builders & Contractors of Indiana. The third party-administrator that conducts the tests for the organizations provided the figure.

MICCS, which involves union and nonunion firms, was created about 15 years ago after Eli Lilly and Co. began to require that contractors, for its building projects, use workers who could pass a substance-abuse test.

At the time, contractors screamed bloody murder, Price said, charging that the moratorium would decrease productivity, increase costs and eliminate much of the work force.

Fast-forward to today and several labor organizations require their members submit to drug testing. In an effort to create uniformity among the various groups, MICCS has granted reciprocity so far to the substance-abuse programs of four groups.

The benefit is that their cards can be used at job sites in which owners are MICCS members, meaning workers don't have to apply for cards and retest every time they change job sites. Before MICCS' founding, for instance, one worker had taken 18 drug tests in one year, Price said.

That's important, because the MICCS membership includes such corporate heavyweights as Lilly and BAA Indianapolis LLC, which operates Indianapolis International Airport, where the $1 billion midfield terminal project is under way. Another member is Indianapolis Public Schools, which has started on a 10-year, $832 million capital improvement project to renovate schools.

Granting reciprocity also has eliminated the issue of laborers only wanting to work at job sites in which the owner is not an MICCS member, in an effort to skirt drug testing, Price said.

The four groups whose substance-abuse programs have received reciprocity are:

Quality Connection, which manages the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 481 substance-abuse program

Indiana Union Construction Resource Center, a coalition of several trade shops that cooperated to start a substance-abuse program

Indiana State Pipe Trades Association

Associated Builders & Contractors of Indiana, an organization representing merit shops.

Ron Lenz, partner in charge of local accounting firm Katz Sapper & Miller LLP's construction practice, conducted the audits. Lenz likened the work to a business-procedures review rather than a true financial audit.

"You have to applaud these guys for promoting a drug-free workplace," Lenz said. "They were trying to see if the program was operating the way it was intended. There were no surprises."

Taking steps to thwart drug use is important, industry safety experts say, because substance abusers in construction have far more acccidents than other workers (see box above). The construction industry has a high rate of drug and acohol use.

Gaylor said broader involvement within the industry is needed, but that those that have adopted drug-testing policies offer a good start. He further said the audit provides credibility and shows the programs do have some teeth.

The cards issued by the affiliate organizations of MICCS' substance-abuse program must carry the MICCS logo and be capable of being validated through its Web-based program "Construction Safesite." Contractors can visit the site and determine within seconds whether a subcontractor's card is valid.

MICCS cards are reissued annually. A total of 65,000 Hoosiers currently carry the cards, Price said.

Quality Connection represents 75 union electrical contractors and about 2,200 Local 481 workers. The laborers are tested annually, but can be tested randomly if an owner of a project requires it, said Nancy Fields, the organization's executive director.

In 2000, IBEW became the first union trade group to mandate a substanceabuse program. But half the members already had been complying anyway, Fields said.

"A contractor is very concerned about safety, not only for their employees, but for the owner of the project they're working on," Fields said. "Anytime you can make a worksite safer, it's good for the industry."

Michelle Boyd, executive director of Top Notch, concurred. Top Notch is a local labor management association that represents 700 union contractors and 20,000 tradesmen in central Indiana.

Top Notch represents members of the IUCRC, which is one of the organizations whose programs received reciprocity.

"It helps to create one group of unified requirements from owner to owner," Boyd said. "We want tradespeople to go from job site to job site with ease."

MICCS has 285 members in all facets of the construction industry. The numbers represent quite an accomplishment for a guy who 15 years ago opposed Eli Lilly's plan to drug test contractors.

But, Price conceded, "they won me over."
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