RANDOM DRUG TESTING BY SP BLOCKED BY JUDGE

RANDOM DRUG TESTING BY SP BLOCKED BY JUDGE

A federal judge stopped all random drug testing at the Southern Pacific Transportation Co. because of allegations the railroad videotaped its employees giving urine samples.

Judge A.J. McNamara of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana issued a temporary restraining order Thursday that prevents the railroad "from conducting any random urinalysis until further orders of this court." The ban applies nationwide.The judge issued the order at the request of the Railroad Labor Executives Association, an umbrella group of railroad labor officials.

"We learned last week that one of the (testing) labs Southern Pacific was using in Louisiana had video cameras above the toilets," said Larry Mann, an attorney for the labor group.

"As the employees went in, the camera was on," he said. "A physician sat in his office and observed them on a monitor."

Most transportation companies, including all major railroads, are required by federal law to test their employees for drug use. Random urine sampling is one of the requirements.

The law, administered by the Department of Transportation, bars companies

from observing the collection of urine specimens unless it suspects the employee of potential tampering.

Workers are tested for range of drugs, including marijuana and cocaine.

The alleged videotaping occurred at a private lab hired by Southern Pacific to administer the tests.

Jim Loveland, a spokesman for the railroad, confirmed that all federally required random drug testing was suspended at 5:15 p.m. PST Wednesday. Other types of drug testing, including pre-employment, post-accident and for probable cause, are continuing.

Mr. Loveland declined to comment on whether Southern Pacific or the labs it uses videotaped employees giving urine samples.

"That will all come out at the hearing," he said.

Judge McNamara has scheduled a further hearing on the issue for June 27.

The railroad unions had asked the court to stop random drug testing and to award employees punitive and compensatory damages because of the alleged invasion of privacy.

"This should make the railroads recognize quickly that they must comply with the federal regulations or the courts will stop the testing," Mr. Mann said.

Labor officials said Judge McNamara first held a hearing on the unions' complaints last Friday and issued an order barring random urine collections in Louisiana only. Mr. Mann said Southern Pacific stopped random testing at the lab where the original incidents occurred, but continued testing at another Louisiana site.

Judge McNamara then expanded the restraining order to cover all Southern Pacific operations.

Mr. Loveland said he was unaware of any court actions prior to the nationwide restraining order.

Although Southern Pacific does not own the testing lab, a supervisor from the railroad was present during the urine collection and was aware of the videotape cameras, Mr. Mann said.

About 4 million workers in the railroad, aviation, trucking and shipping industries were required to undergo mandatory drug testing under new laws that took effect in December and January.

Labor unions in several industries have sued to block random drug screening. Courts in some jurisdictions have restricted the scope of testing.