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Drug Testing News
NCCO starts random
By CHARLOTTE HALE
Nearly every full-time employee in New Castle County
government could be tested for drug and alcohol use under a
random screening policy that goes into effect today.
County Executive Tom Gordon said he hopes the new approach
will discourage illegal drug use and encourage employees who
have minor substance abuse problems to seek medical help.
"This makes for a safer, more productive work force," he said.
Employees will be suspended without pay if they test positive
for use of marijuana, cocaine and three other types of drugs
during urinalysis or have an alcohol concentration of at least
0.04 as determined by a breath test. They can, however, use
sick leave or vacation time for medical evaluations and
treatment. A second offense within three years can result in
While drug testing is common among government employers,
requiring it randomly for employees whose jobs do not pose a
safety risk to the public is unusual, government
administrators and personnel directors said.
Jacquelyne Byers, director of research for the National
Association of Counties in Washington, D.C., said drug testing
is more typical as a condition of employment. Random testing
tends to be limited to employees who use a commercial driver's
license on the job or who carry guns, Byers said.
That's pretty much the trend throughout Delaware, including
the state government, Kent and Sussex counties, Wilmington,
Dover and Newark. Most said they also can test when there is
reasonable suspicion that drug use is affecting an employee's
Random tests in Wilmington apply not only to commercial
driver's license holders but police and firefighters.
Pre-employment drug testing is performed only for paramedics
in Sussex County and for safety-sensitive jobs on the state
level, such as police troopers.
Byers said random testing of other types of employees,
particularly those with desk jobs, tends to be vulnerable to
legal challenges involving invasion of privacy.
Random drug tests, however, are less likely to be successfully
struck down by the courts if employees consent to the tests in
advance through union contracts, she said.
The county went the contract route in implementing its policy
for its work force of about 1,500. The testing is expected to
cost about $32,000 this year, county spokesman Joe
The five labor unions representing most of the county's
full-time workers agreed to random testing as a condition in
their most recent contracts. Several dozen nonunion employees
also independently agreed to the testing, and new hires who
are not represented by a union will have to agree as a
condition of their employment, Szczechowski said.
County Council President Chris Coons said council members will
have to decide whether they and their nonunionized staff will
adopt the same policy. Szczechowski said the policy would
apply to Gordon and his top aide, Sherry Freebery.
New Castle County previously tested only two groups of
employees for drugs. The force of about 340 police officers
and about 150 commercial driver's license holders could be
tested if there was reasonable cause to believe they were
using drugs. Commercial driver's license holders also were
subject to random tests and screenings after accidents.
David Carpenter Jr., president of the American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3109 representing
professional, managerial and administrative employees, said
the union received a 5 percent raise in exchange for agreeing
to random testing. He said the unions also suggested several
changes to the proposed policy, including a decrease in the
number of employees subject to testing each year from half to
one-quarter of the work force.
Kenny Dunn, president of the county's largest union, AFSCME
Local 1607 representing paramedics, clerical, administrative
and technical workers, said, "Our local supports the random
drug testing policy because we believe in a drug- and
alcohol-free work environment for health and safety reasons."
Michael Begatto, executive director of AFSCME Council 81
representing more than 6,000 workers statewide, said
work-safety and monetary consideration motivated the New
Castle County unions' acceptance of random testing. He said
employees also want a safe work place and complaining about
the drug test is tough when it is administered during the
workday at the government's expense.