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WORKERS' COMPENSATION Drug testing violates contract, union says



Published: Fri, April 29, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The mayor says the grievance will be denied.

By PEGGY SINKOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

GIRARD -- The local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has filed a grievance accusing the mayor of violating its contract by imposing random drug testing.

The grievance was filed Thursday, two days after Mayor James Melfi said that all city employees will be required to participate in random drug testing, part of a program that will save the city more than $100,000 a year in workers' compensation costs.

"We have 10 days to respond, but I can tell you right now that we will deny this," Melfi said.

Union officials could not be reached. The 28-member union represents street, sewage and water departments, the auditor's office and other office workers not affiliated with safety forces.

The mayor says that the union can decide to take the matter to arbitration.

"What really surprises me is that the union leaders have not caught on yet," Melfi said. "I have received more public outcry on this issue than any other one I can remember. We can save ... city money by doing this, so how does it benefit the union if we don't do it?"

The mayor wants to take part in the Drug Free Workplace Program, offered by the Bureau of Workers' Compensation. He is not sure when the testing will start but says he and Municipal Court Judge Michael Bernard will be tested first.

Frequency

About 10 employees a year will be selected for testing, Melfi said.

Last week the police and fire unions, court employees, administrators and council members agreed to take part in the program.

"I'm very disappointed that they did file and it's sad because some of the AFSCME union members are telling me they are embarrassed," Melfi said.

According to the mayor, the city would pay $732,011 for workers' compensation if it doesn't take part in the program. Adopting the drug testing program lowers the premium to $622,852.

In three years, the city would save about $330,000 by taking part in the program, he said.

In addition to the financial benefits, random drug testing will boost public confidence in the city's employees.

Several council members said that they agree with the program.

sinkovich@vindy.com




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