Apr 21st, 2005 - 21:10:55
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Voices of the Northwest
I am a part time or "militia" wildland firefighter for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. I have been doing this for 15 years now and I am a late bloomer where I work. Some of our people have been fighting fire for close to 30 years.
Last year, we were informed that we must submit to random drug testing in order to fight fire in the summer of '02. Some major drug hysteria push from the Department of the Interior was mandating this expensive solution in search of a problem.
The BLM's Oregon/Washington Labor/Management Relations specialist informed us that we had no choice but to urinate in bottles for Big Brother like trained monkeys. Our union pulled together and demanded to see this policy in writing. It was a long time coming.
Finally, we were shown a tired, ten year-old policy for full time fire fighters who get early retirement calling for drug testing before they were hired and submission to RDT afterwards.
When the union met with the LMR individual and our management, he was unable to sell anybody that the term "primary fire fighter" meant us militia types as well. Our management refused to buy off on the policy and we were able to get on with life. All this took place before last year's early and long lived fire season.
This June (03) we were informed that there was a new, improved random drug testing policy especially crafted for us militia types for the Dept of the Interior and that we MUST sign the papers before being allowed to go off to fight fire this season.
Of course, June is National Drug Hysteria Month but even so, we feel that this nonsense was calculatedly sprung on us just before fire season so that we would blindly sign so we wouldn't be held back from fighting fire.
This is what a union contract calls a "change in working conditions" and as such the impact and implementation of this policy must be negotiated with the union. Our local American Federation of Government Employees 1911 has a contract with the management of Eugene District so we are preparing to negotiate the implementation and impact of a DOI policy on a local level.
As a union steward, I have never been involved in any sort of multi- level negotiation like this before. Our local president and chief steward are fire fighters also. None of us is amused. I refreshed my memory of the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights and read:
|The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath, or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. |
This seems pretty clear to me. The people who wrote the Bill of Rights in 1791 obviously had no concept of random drug testing, but it still fits the situation. We are being given an opportunity to prove our innocence with imperfect drug testing that automatically shifts the burden of proof onto the tested for any sort of positive reading. We would clearly not be secure in our persons if this totalitarian enactment was unleashed upon us.
I can ALMOST accept the premise of requiring random drug testing as a term of employment. This means you apply for a job with RDT up front as part of the gig. You have the choice to take it or leave it.
I submitted to this indignity in '94 when I tried a year in the Oregon National Guard after a five year hiatus from the Army Reserve. It was up front and I enlisted knowing this. Fair enough. My "Try One" in the Cottage Grove NG unit swiftly reminded me why I left my decade-plus military career "open ended" and I forgot to re-enlist when my year was up. The older I get, the less likely I am to voluntarily put up with bureaucratic nonsense. Random Drug Testing was part of my decision to leave.
Local 1911 has a lot of problems with the new, improved RDT policy. It targets only "arduously tested" fire fighters of the Dept of the Interior. Many incident commanders and high level fire planners do not trouble themselves with the pack test each year to prove they can still hack it on the line. They don't need to. The message here is that it is OK to be as high as you want in base camp and make life or death decisions for the DOI grunts on the line who must submit to drug testing.
Then, too, the Dept. of the Interior has been singled out for this special high intensity treatment while the Forest Service and other Federal agencies have not. Why is this? My personal theory is that it's the time honored precept of "divide and conquer" being applied.
If Big Brother gets away with forcing the Dept. of the Interior arduously carded fire fighters to submit to drug testing, then eventually, every fire fighting agency will follow suit. Then every fire fighter, arduously carded or not, then every employee of the federal government, and some day every citizen in the US.
If the already seriously eroded Fourth Amendment can be abrogated, then B.B. will try for the all important Second. Without the right to keep and bear arms, the entire Constitution and Bill of Rights becomes a list of boring suggestions and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery will have been successfully repealed.
It is far more than the indignity of filling bottles on command like a monkey at stake here. Wish us luck as Local 1911 resists this Orwellian violation of all of our civil rights.
Norm Maxwell, steward, AFGE 1911
Visit other articles by Norm Maxwell at West By Northwest.org
including the section "Voices of Spencer Creek, Norm's Notebook" and
Old Men and Fire
The Fire of South Canyon: Remembering Storm King
Norm's Notebook: The Story of the Spruce Tree, and Mosby Creek, a New Land Use "Lot Adjustment"
Norm's Notebook: Dead Cars and the Six Million Dollar Manx
(Editor's note–Norm's "Dead Cars" story inspired a feature story in the Register Guard, "Heaps of trouble in the woods.")
Mentoring Military Style
Three Dollar Hammer
Song of the Open Road
Remember Fire Road
Home, Home on Fire Road
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