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Arnold M. Knightly

Union rep in favor of drug test

11 August 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Building contractors should be given authority to conduct random drug and alcohol tests of construction workers, either through legislation or through negotiations with unions, a spokesman for a construction trades group said a day after three union members were fired for entering the CityCenter job site after drinking at nearby bars.

Steve Holloway, executive vice president of the Las Vegas chapter of the Associated General Contractors, said Friday that the number of construction workers who are drinking on the job represents a small fraction of the total work force on the site.

However, "it's a large enough minority that it needs to be dealt with, probably by legislation that would allow a construction contractor to perform random drug and alcohol testing," he said.

Holloway is a member of an eight-person task force that was set up in the wake of a series of 12 construction worker deaths at Strip sites in the past 18 months. The committee is looking at possible legislation to be considered by the 2009 Legislature.

Holloway said none of the union contracts now in effect locally allow for random testing of construction workers.

"That needs to be changed by statute, or by negotiations with the union," he said. "It should probably be by statute because we have just as many nonunion workers as we do union."

Steve Redlinger, spokesman for the Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council, an affiliate for 17 labor unions, said lawmakers can't legislate personal responsibility without coming dangerously close to treading on civil liberties.

Another member of the committee, state Assemblyman John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said he would not support giving employers "unfettered abilities" to randomly drug test employees because that would infringe on the individuals' rights.

A company should need to show there is "some indication" a worker is impaired by drugs or alcohol before it could demand a test, the state Assembly's majority leader said.

Committee member and state Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, sided with Oceguera in expressing concern over individual rights.

Existing union contracts already say companies can request a drug or alcohol test if an employee displays erratic behavior or is slurring speech, a union official said. Most of the current agreements also let employers demand tests before someone is hired or if they are involved in an accident.

Other committee members, Clark County commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Rory Reid, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and state Senate Minority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, did not return calls for comment. Trades Council President Rick Johnson also is on the committee.

The committee will probably reconvene in late August or early September and begin drafting a bill for next year, Holloway said.

The committee members' comments come two days after the Review-Journal reported that it had photographed 10 construction workers drinking at Strip bars before they went on to the CityCenter work site, a violation of rules set by the general contract, its subcontractors and the unions.

Dozens of additional workers were seen drinking alcohol outside convenience stores and inside bars, but they were identified as being off for the day.

On Thursday, three ironworkers members who were photographed returning to the job site were identified and fired by general contractor Perini Corp.

Perini officials said they have not identified any other workers yet, but the company will continue its investigation next week, said Doug Mure, Perini's vice president of human resources and risk management.

Chuck Lenhart, business agent for Ironworkers Local 433, said he met Friday with one of the disciplined workers, who admitted his behavior was inappropriate.

"When I spoke to one of them this morning, he got it," said Lenhart, who declined to give the workers' names or to describe their jobs. "He understood and I believe he is going to get some help."

Lenhart said the fired workers will need to go through counseling, at the union's expense, before they can be cleared to work on other jobs -- in two or three months, at the earliest. The workers won't be reassigned to another job site until they are cleared by a counselor, he added.

However, each case is different and, if the workers have any prior disciplinary action on their records, they could be removed from the union.

But that is not a step the union wants to take, he said.

"When there is somebody that may have a problem they're not out the door," said Lenhart, who noted the Ironworkers local also screens workers before they join the union.

"We try to get help for them. Some people accept it and some people don't."

However, the responsibility ultimately lies with the individual worker to do the right thing for themselves and the workers around them.

"They have free will and they can make their choices," Lenhart said. "Sometimes, they make bad choices. That's what I'm concerned about in this industry: When you have people who make these types of choices to (drink alcohol before work), there's a possibility of them hurting someone else on the job site."

Perini plans to look at what the company can do to control alcohol problems on its job site, although Mure said: "Our focus right now is the immediate identification (of the workers in the photos)."

The Perini executive did dismiss one rumor that went around the job site Thursday suggesting the company planned to "close" the job site so workers could not leave during lunch.

Mure said trying to close the 77-acre construction site, which employs 7,700 workers, would be impractical.

"That's not even really feasible on a project like CityCenter or any of the major construction projects in Las Vegas," he said. "Rumors are rumors. You've seen the site, it isn't something that could even be considered."