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Four Spokane City Drivers Test Positive For Drug Use Federally Required Tests Can Lead To Treatment, Dismissal

Nearly one of 10 commercial drivers for the city of Spokane tested positive for drugs since random testing began three weeks ago.

So far, 45 employees were tested and four turned up positive - one for cocaine and three for marijuana.

“I’m not surprised to have substance abuse out in the work force,” said City Manager Roger Crum. “I’m disappointed, but I’m not shocked.”

A federally required testing program went into effect Jan. 1 ordering drivers with commercial licenses and people who work in “safetysensitive functions” to submit to random breath and urine tests.

The testing affects about 440 city employees, including wastewater, water, sewer and garbage truck drivers. It will cost taxpayers about $50,000 this year.

“It is costly,” said Jim Smith, the city’s personnel director. “And it is time-consuming.”

Smith said he’d been told by officials in other cities already doing the testing to expect a high number of positives at first.

People must learn to take the testing seriously, Smith said.

Earlier in the week, Smith said four out of 27 people tested positive, but changed the number a day later after double-checking his records.

About 18 employees will be tested each month, with names drawn randomly on testing day, Smith said. One out of every two drivers must be tested each year.

Employees who test positive will be taken off the job immediately until arrangements are made for drug treatment or a second test indicates no drug or alcohol use.

Once treatment begins, employees must sign a recovery program contract - also known as a last-chance contract - with the city. The contracts include random drug testing.

Depending on the treatment, employees can return to work as long as they don’t break the contract. If they do, they are subject to discipline that could include firing.

“When they go back to work, I can assure you they’re clean,” said Randy Withrow, the drivers’ union representative.

Bruce Steele, city transportation director, said he was happy to see the program in place.

“This is terrific as far as a safety item,” Steele said. “If someone shows up not ready for work, we’ll make some arrangements to make sure we have qualified drivers.

“I think it’s going to be very effective.”

Withrow said he is concerned about the constitutionality of the testing, but that’s for the courts to decide.

“We may not like it, but we’re going to comply with the law,” he said. “Between the union and the city, we’ve worked out an excellent policy.”