May 4th 2020

The risk of exposing frontline workers to Covid-19 outweighs the safety benefits of continued random drug and alcohol testing, transportation sector unions are telling the administration.

Mariners and other frontline transportation workers are already at a heightened risk of contracting the virus due to the nature of their jobs, moving goods and passengers across the country and around the world, keeping supply lines open.

In periodic conference calls with representatives of the Maritime Administration, the Department of Transportation and the Coast Guard, MM&P and the other maritime unions have raised grave concerns about the risks of continued random drug and alcohol testing.

Now, the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department is calling on DOT’s Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy & Compliance to immediately suspend random testing for at least 90 days.

TTD’s 33 affiliate unions represent millions of workers in all modes of transportation who are covered by DOT’s drug and alcohol testing requirements.

“Our members ensure that other essential employees can get to work, and that medical supplies, food and other critical products can get where they are needed,” TTD President Larry Willis wrote in a letter to Patrice Kelly, director of the DOT Testing Compliance Office.

“Given the severe and disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on these employees, it is of paramount importance—and in the shared interest of TTD unions, DOT and the United States at large—that every action is taken to protect this workforce from the effects of Covid-19.”

TTD echoed concerns expressed by one of its affiliates, the Airline Pilots Association, in an April 21 letter to the administration.

“Drug and alcohol testing procedures… are not designed to accommodate the unique risks presented by a deadly global pandemic,” Willis wrote.

“… Breath testing… presents numerous opportunities for the transmission of Covid-19, particularly because the regulations do not prescribe adequate prophylactic requirements for either the device or the technician administering the device.”

Although breathalyzer manufacturers have said they are considering “guidance for the safe use” of their equipment during the pandemic, unions say this is by no means an acceptable replacement for thoughtful and preemptive regulation, developed with scientific consensus and subject to review.

Urine specimen collection procedures also pose risks, requiring employees to interact closely with specimen collectors who themselves have been in contact with numerous individuals.

“It is well within the realm of possibility that a Covid-19 positive collector, who may be asymptomatic and unaware, could unwittingly serve as a nexus of infection throughout a workforce,” TTD says.

An additional risk factor: the fact that employees must travel to testing facilities where they come into contact with medical personnel, patients and others.

“Given the presence of these risks, the potentially lethal consequences of contracting Covid-19, and the negative impacts of the virus continuing to spread among transportation workers, it is incumbent on DOT to eliminate these risks by suspending testing,” the unions say.

Although some regulators have offered employers “flexibility” in meeting current requirements, DOT has so far failed to take substantive action.

“Unfortunately, merely providing for the possibility of the temporary delay of some tests, and leaving this choice in the hands of employers is inadequate given the exponential spread of Covid-19,” Willis wrote.

“We call on DOT to suspend random testing for all covered employees for a period of no less than 90 days.”

“As we see increasing incidence and deaths among the frontline transportation workforce,” he said, “it is clear that DOT must take decisive action to reduce exposure and protect these employees.”