Globe staff photo/Yoon S. Byun
The Boston Municipal Research Bureau and the Pioneer Institute have teamed up to identify key issues the city faces and to ask the candidates how they would respond to the challenges. Each day this week, MetroDesk will highlight one of the issues and post the answers from Mayor Thomas M. Menino, City Councilors Sam Yoon and Michael F. Flaherty Jr., and South End developer Kevin McCrea.
The issue: Mandatory alcohol and drug testing
The context: Drug testing for public safety employees has been at the forefront of city issues for many years. Currently, drug testing requirements must be negotiated through the collective bargaining process. The city negotiated annual drug testing with its police officers in 1998 and annual drug testing with its EMTs in 2008. However, the firefighters have not agreed to drug testing, leaving Boston with different testing regimes for different public safety unions.
Since 2000, two separate reports about Boston Fire Department operations recommended that firefighters be subject to drug testing. Drug testing was on the table in contract negotiations between the City and firefighters' union in 2000 and 2004, with no agreement reached. The two parties are now in binding arbitration to settle the firefighters' contract that expired on June 30, 2006, and random alcohol and drug testing is an issue for resolution.
The two parties differ in their respective views of the monetary value of an alcohol and drug testing policy in the context of other contract changes sought and the city's fiscal position. The issue of alcohol and drug testing is not so much whether it should be implemented but by what means.
Proponents of a statewide legislative requirement argue it would ensure a uniform standard throughout the Commonwealth rather than the current patchwork system of municipalities that may or may not require testing or may use different standards if they do. A state system, they argue, would help ensure all uniformed public safety officers are alert and not impaired when on duty serving the public. This system would give confidence to fellow officers during stressful and dangerous work situations and during times of mutual aid when working with officers from other municipalities.
Those favoring the collective bargaining process make the case that testing is a condition of employment and that the public safety officers should be included in the decision of whether and what drug testing policy should be implemented. They argue that drug testing has been successfully negotiated in other Massachusetts contracts and there is no reason to change this policy.
The question: Do you believe mandatory alcohol and drug testing should be required for all uniformed public safety employees and EMTs and, if so, how should such testing be achieved?
The answers (alphabetically by candidate):
Regretfully, the city has missed crucial opportunities to implement such system-wide policies, despite the recommendations made by the O’Toole report, whose findings and recommendations I have always supported. While I do not oppose the legislation that has been proposed at the State House, I still believe we can achieve mandatory and random drug and alcohol testing through a collective bargaining process that genuinely employs fair and diplomatic negotiations, which to date, has not been attempted by the current administration.
Menino: I strongly believe in mandatory random alcohol and drug testing for uniformed public safety personnel. For that reason, I have sponsored and am advocating for the adoption of state-wide legislation that would make all uniformed public safety officers and EMTs subject to mandatory random alcohol and drug testing. (House Bill 2210)
However, the current negotiation with the Fire Union demonstrates the limitation to this approach. Drug and alcohol testing is a vital preventative measure in a safety sensitive workforce. It should not be reduced to a quid-pro-quo in the bargaining process. This approach has left some cash strapped cities and towns with little hope of being able to secure drug and alcohol testing at the bargaining table. It has also left most uniformed public safety officers in the State without the benefit of this preventative safety measure.
Yoon: Yes, I support mandatory drug testing as a requirement for all uniformed public safety employees.
Under our charter, the Mayor of Boston negotiates and signs all union contracts. The Menino administration has had 16 years and multiple opportunities at the bargaining table to achieve drug and alcohol testing. It is disingenuous at best for the Mayor to bash the unions at election time over this issue when there has been ample time and opportunity to deal with it over the past 16 years.
Municipal employees deserve fair contracts that protect their interests and provide for adequate compensation for their hard work. But the Mayor of Boston is elected to negotiate contracts on behalf of the entire city of Boston and all taxpayers. We need a more transparent budget process so that that the public has access to information about how tax dollars are spent.
Coming Thursday: Public safety
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more