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Newspaper’s Drug, Alcohol Testing Policy Ruled Unfair

November 8, 1988

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ The implementation of drug and alcohol testing policies by the Star Tribune without bargaining with the local guild has been ruled an unfair labor practice, in a case that could become a national precedent.

The company’s refusal to provide information about the policy’s enforcement at the union’s request also is an unfair labor practice, Administrative Law Judge Wallace Nations ruled last week in Washington.

He said such testing meets legal definitions of issues that must be negotiated between employers and unions.

The case has the potential to be precedent-setting nationwide because the National Labor Relations Board has not yet ruled on any appeals involving the issue, said Diane Williams, assistant director of the NLRB’s information division.

If the company does not appeal Nations’ ruling by Dec. 1, the NLRB will adopt it routinely, probably in early December, and Nations’ recommendation s will take effect, said Joe Moore, the board’s deputy executive secretary.

If the company does appeal, a panel or the full board will consider it, he said.

John Dennison, vice president of labor relations for the newspaper, said Monday that the company was disappointed by the ruling but had not decided whether to appeal.

The judge recommended that the company be ordered to revoke its drug and alcohol testing policies covering applicants and employees in jobs covered by its contract with Local 2 of the News Guild of the Twin Cities and to negotiate future policies with the guild. The local represents about 350 newsroom and circulation employees of the Star Tribune.

Nations also recommended that the newspaper be required to offer a job to any applicant rejected under the policy since it was imposed on Jan. 1, 1987, and pay the applicant for related losses. He also recommended that the company rescind any punishment that might have been imposed on employees under the policy and compensate them for their losses.

The Star Tribune’s policy requires a medical exam, including drug and alcohol screening, for applicants to whom the company offers a job. If applicants test positive, the company will withdraw the job offer.

The policy also provides that current employees may be asked to undergo screening when management believes that job performance or conduct is impaired by alcohol or drug abuse.

Dennison said no employee has been tested under the policy since it took effect and that he knew of only one job applicant who had withdrawn after learning about the policy.

Under Nations’ recommendations, the newspaper would be required to give the union the names and addresses of people who have applied for guild-covered jobs at the paper since the policy took effect and identify those who refused to take the tests.

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