The Boston Globe
Mayor Thomas M. Menino testified at the State House yesterday in favor of statewide legislation requiring random drug and alcohol testing for all public safety personnel and emergency medical technicians.
``We already have drug testing for conductors of garbage trucks, dump trucks, and school buses. Why not a public safety official? Why are they not tested?'' Menino asked the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. The law would ``equal the playing field'' for municipal workers, he said.
Menino declared support for the same legislation when it was proposed last year by Representative Christopher J. Donelan of Orange at the request of one of his constituents. The measure was filed after autopsy reports found that two firefighters who died in a West Roxbury restaurant blaze had drugs or alcohol in their system. The blood-alcohol level of one of the firefighters exceeded the legal driving limit, and the other had traces of cocaine in his blood.
The city is still locked in contract negotiations with its firefighters union, with drug testing the major sticking point.
This year's bill, also sponsored by Donelan, is only a small paragraph and does not specify the parameters of the testing nor how it would be funded, sparking criticism from representatives of police and firefighters unions at the hearing.
``It is unconstitutional what you are doing here,'' said Robert B. McCarthy, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, a union representing more than 11,000 firefighters in the Commonwealth.
McCarthy called the proposal a ``political football,'' giving safety workers a bad image in the press. He said the union was not against drug testing, but thinks firefighters deserve increased wages or benefits in return, something he says needs to be worked out locally in contract negotiations.
He said mandating testing in a state law would violate the rights of public safety workers and would cost the state millions of dollars to implement.
``Drug testing should be bargained at the local level,'' he said.
Boston firefighters undergo random drug and alcohol testing during their first year of employment, but after that they are tested only if they show visible signs of being impaired on the job. Boston police officers approved random testing at any time in their career several years ago. The city's emergency medical technicians approved a contract last year including drug and alcohol testing.
But the current process, in which each city's union negotiates drug testing standards, has created a ``patchwork system'' across the state, said Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.
``A statewide mandate is important to ensure uniformity in all communities,'' Tyler said.
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June 26, 2009