The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 22, 2012

Is that all there is? Contractors’ drug-free ‘pledge’ is pain-free, too

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor



Some arguments can best be won with the opportune use of a good example.

For example: which is safer, construction projects with a union or nonunion workforce? You might have your own opinion on that subject, but good luck finding government statistics to back you up, because safety, injury and fatality statistics are rarely broken down according to union affiliation.

So along comes this example that may or may not prove anything. But in a backdoor manner, it sure does provide a powerful character witness for the safety practices of union workers and their contractors.

On May 9, the Associated General Contractors of America – comprising both union and nonunion contractors – disseminated a news release that said five of the nation’s largest construction trade associations have teamed up to form the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace.

The coalition has a painfully useless acronym (CCDAFW) and as it turns out, pain-free requirements for member contractors to give little more than lip-service to a safer workplace. The group is comprised of the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Construction Industry Round Table (CIRT), Construction Users’ Roundtable (CURT) and Women Construction Owners & Executives (WCOE).

The coalition’s mission “is to create a drug- and alcohol-free construction industry by providing companies and organizations with the resources necessary to implement drug- and alcohol-free policies into their business practices.”

Sounds impressive. But practically speaking, how they gonna do that? We’re imagining a nationwide database of construction workers, all of whom are certifiably tested clean for drugs and alcohol and who are safety trained – and who have a card that can be swiped at any jobsite to show they’re ready to meet an employer’s conditions for working on their property. The reality: not even close.

Instead, the group decided they would fill up the inboxes of construction newspaper editors with the following news as part of that press release: “CCDAFW today launched a nationwide effort urging construction-related firms and organizations to sign an online pledge signifying they will create and maintain a workplace free from substance abuse. In addition to listing current pledge signatories, the CCDAFW website,http://www.drugfreeconstruction.org/ includes educational materials and state-by-state policies for substance abuse testing.”

Still our beating hearts. “AN ONLINE PLEDGE!” “EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS!” Easy to find “STATE-BY-STATE POLICIES!”

We looked for more meat on the bone. All we found were quotes that said next-to-nothing. “We are driving an industry toward world-class safety,” said ABC President and CEO Michael D. Bellaman. The ABC is no stranger to giving lip-service. “If we want to have an industry that is world class in safety, we have to start with a rock-solid foundation that includes an environment free of drugs and substance abuse. This coalition is a way to help companies build that foundation so we can continue toward our goal of eliminating all fatalities on construction worksites.”

And, this from CIRT President Mark A. Casso: “As an organization composed of CEOs from both leading design and construction firms, the CIRT Board of Directors views participation in the coalition as extremely critical to reinforcing the importance of safety across the wide range of disciplines involved with construction job sites.  To that end, we see the center piece of this effort as not only the pledge itself, but also the educational materials, model policies, informational aids and best practices that will be made available and shared.”

Now, compare those ridiculously empty words of support with what the union construction sector has been doing in Michigan since 1987 when MUST (Management and Unions Working Together) was started. The MUST group was formed following an expressed desire from employers to develop a standardized method of testing construction workers for drugs and alcohol. Standardized safety training modules came later. It wasn’t a smooth process, but unions eventually saw that they could provide added value to employers and owners who recognized the promotion of on-the-job safety as both a moral duty and economic benefit.

Last year alone MUST administered 25,167 drug tests, and 127,649 safety tests. That’s a little more than sponsoring an online petition.

And that’s not all. The Boilermakers have their own nationwide MOST safety program. Do a Google search on building trades drug and alcohol testing and you will find scores of hits on local and regional union programs around the country. Union apprenticeship schools spend millions on safety training. At the very least, numerous union health and welfare plans offer drug and alcohol counseling as part of benefits to workers.

“We had to overcome a lot of resistance to drug and alcohol testing of workers here in Michigan as the MUST program was being set up,” said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. “It’s a lot easier to talk than it is to take action when it comes to drug and alcohol testing and safety training. You’re not going to see this kind of program much on the nonunion side because it’s difficult, it’s expensive, it requires a committed workforce, and it takes a spirit of cooperation. The bottom line is that nonunion employers take online pledges to improve safety. Union employers and members actively work together to improve safety.”

Press release is below:

NEWS RELEASE – Associated General Contractors

National Trade Groups Team Up to Create a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Construction Industry

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 9, 2012 – 10:00 a.m. (EDT)

CONTACT: Gerry Fritz, (703) 812-2062
Brian Turmail, (703) 837-5310

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Five of the nation’s largest construction trade associations have teamed up to form the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace (CCDAFW). The coalition’s mission is to create a drug- and alcohol-free construction industry by providing companies and organizations with the resources necessary to implement drug- and alcohol-free policies into their business practices.

CCDAFW today launched a nationwide effort urging construction-related firms and organizations to sign an online pledge signifying they will create and maintain a workplace free from substance abuse. In addition to listing current pledge signatories, the CCDAFW website, http://www.drugfreeconstruction.org/ includes educational materials and state-by-state policies for substance abuse testing.

The CCDAFW is comprised of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Construction Industry Round Table (CIRT), Construction Users’ Roundtable (CURT) and Women Construction Owners & Executives (WCOE).

“We are driving an industry toward world-class safety,” said ABC President and CEO Michael D. Bellaman. “If we want to have an industry that is world class in safety, we have to start with a rock-solid foundation that includes an environment free of drugs and substance abuse. This coalition is a way to help companies build that foundation so we can continue toward our goal of eliminating all fatalities on construction worksites.”

“This partnership will build on the significant steps firms across the country have already taken to make construction safer today than it has ever been,” said AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr. “Making sure that every construction worker on every construction site is fully in control and absolutely sober is the best way to save lives and prevent injuries.”

“As an organization composed of CEOs from both leading design and construction firms, the CIRT Board of Directors views participation in the coalition as extremely critical to reinforcing the importance of safety across the wide range of disciplines involved with construction job sites,” noted CIRT President Mark A. Casso. “To that end, we see the center piece of this effort as not only the pledge itself, but also the educational materials, model policies, informational aids and best practices that will be made available and shared.”

“At CURT, we believe the road to zero incidents encompasses all facets of effective safety and health programs,” said CURT Executive Vice President Gregory L. Sizemore. “The Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace initiative is a way to help owners and contractors improve their safety performance – on and off the jobsite – leading to the elimination of accidents and injuries.”

“The health and safety of the construction industry workforce is of primary importance to company owners,” said WCOE National Executive Director Penny Pompei. “Drugs and construction sites do not mix. Small businesses often don’t have the resources to develop in-depth substance abuse awareness and prevention programs. This coordinated effort by a group of construction industry organizations will provide the tools WCOE’s small business owners need to combat this danger to our workers.”

The launch of the CCDAFW website and online pledge coincides with North American Occupational Safety and Health Week, May 6-12.