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Unions seek more time to review hair testing exemption

A group representing unionized workers in transportation industries wasted no time in asking the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for more time to respond to a proposed exemption that would allow six carriers to use hair analysis instead of urine testing for pre-employment screening for controlled substances. On February 19, FMCSA requested comment on a petition filed by J.B. Hunt, Schneider National, Werner Enterprises, Knight Transportation, Maverick Transportation, and Dupre Logistics.

On January 23, the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department requested a 60-day extension of the comment period. Although none of the six carriers are unionized, TTD said the members represented by its affiliated unions "include workers who are subject to FMCSA's drug testing standards as well as other transportation employees who would be negatively impacted by the precedent this petition would set."

TTD noted that for more than 30 years the Department of Transportation has followed the congressional mandate in the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991, which requires DOT to follow the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandatory guidelines for scientific testing issues. "Currently, HHS requires the use of urine specimen in drug tests," TTD said. "Thus, the exemption requested by the truck companies, if granted, would be wholly unprecedented."

Given the potential precedent, more than 33 days is needed to thoroughly review the companies' petition and data allegedly showing the benefits of the request, TTD told FMCSA. "Further, hair specimen testing remains a contested issue in the scientific community, and more time is needed to collect and provide the agency studies on the issue."

Although HHS guides do currently require urine testing, Congress directed that HHS adopt guidelines by now providing for hair analysis as an alternative for pre-employment testing of motor carrier workers subject to mandatory testing. Section 5402 of the FAST Act, which was signed into law on December 4, 2015, required HHS to issue within one year scientific and technical guidelines for hair testing. HHS has yet to issue those guidelines.

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