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WORKERS' COMPENSATION Drug test sneaks up on Mayor Melfi



Published: Wed, May 25, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



About 10 employees a year will be selected for testing.

By PEGGY SINKOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

GIRARD -- Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. That's what Mayor James Melfi says he has learned.

The mayor walked in his office Tuesday morning to find out he was one of the first city employees to take part in the random drug testing provided by the Drug Free Workplace Program, offered by the Bureau of Workers' Compensation.

"I was shocked to find these people in my office right when I got here," Melfi said. "I had no clue they were coming but what the heck, I imposed it so I should be the first to take it."

City Auditor Sam Zirafi also was asked to take the test, Melfi said. He was not sure if any other city employees were asked Tuesday.

Cost-saving

The mayor imposed the random drug testing last month as part of a program that will save the city more than $100,000 a year in workers' compensation costs.

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

According to the mayor, the city would pay $732,011 a year 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, the mayor has said.

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

Grievance filed

However, 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.

Jerry Lambert, safety-service director, has denied the grievance. It is not known when the matter will go to arbitration. The mayor has said that the AFSCME membership did not vote on the matter. AFSCME union officials decided to file the grievance, Melfi said.

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

"I understand that the AFSCME union has called a meeting and I believe they are discussing this matter of the random drug tests," the mayor said. The mayor did not know if the AFSCME members were going to vote on the matter.

sinkovich@vindy.com




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