Massachusetts Union Fights Random Drug/Alcohol Tests

Posted: 04-30-2008
Updated: 05-01-2008 02:53:42 PM

The Boston Herald

The state's firefighter union continued to fight random drug and alcohol testing yesterday with a Beacon Hill unity rally where labor leaders bashed the media and refused to give in to any changes that aren't bargained.

"We are not going to give up our collective bargaining rights," Robert McCarthy, president of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, told hundreds of jakes from across the state before they lobbied lawmakers.

McCarthy said unions are willing to bargain health insurance and pension reform, regionalization, and random drug and alcohol testing. During a fiery speech, McCarthy also blasted the media for "vicious attacks" on firefighters and charged that the media "portrays us like dogs."

Those comments come amid the Boston firefighters Local 718's growing animosity toward the press that began last year. Media outlets reported that one firefighter who perished in a 2007 West Roxbury restaurant fire was legally drunk at the time and another who died had traces of cocaine in his system, according to officials briefed on the autopsy results.

That was followed by two embarrassing drug incidents. In March, police caught a Boston firefighter smoking marijuana in a department vehicle, and last Friday a Boston firefighter out on leave was apprehended for allegedly buying OxyContin from a known drug dealer.

The union and city are embroiled in contract talks, and the biggest sticking point is the union's refusal to accept random drug and alcohol testing. On Friday, Local 718 charged that the media is doing the city's "dirty work" and that City Hall is "feeding bogus stories" to the press.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino's spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, called those allegations "a tactic by 718 to get away from talking about the real issues of random drug and alcohol testing." Local 718 President Ed Kelly declined to comment.