A surprise drug search of contracted workers at Highland Valley Copper by a private security firm with sniffer dogs has left union representatives shocked and bewildered.
The mine’s optimization project is underway with workers for contractors JVD Installations Inc. being bused in from Valleyview for three daily shifts.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, about 300 morning shift workers getting off the bus were greeted by security personnel handling dogs that sniffed them and their belongings in search of drugs.
“I was stunned. I was absolutely stunned when I heard it,” said Jim Oostenbrink, head of the Construction Allied Workers Union for B.C. “I thought ‘Uh, dog sniffing?’”
Highland Valley Copper communication affairs manager Jacqui Schneider said the contractor hired the security firm “as part of their routine safety program.”
“As this is an internal matter for the contractor, I can’t provide any further information,” she said in a statement.
Calls to JVD Installations were not returned by press time.
The actions are far from routine, according to three unions connected to the mine.
Among the Construction Allied Workers Union’s strongest objections is that they were not notified or even informed there may be concerns about drugs among employees.
“We didn’t hear any whisper, nothing whatsoever,” said Oostenbrink. “It is an illegal search and we also believe it’s a clear violation of our collective agreement.”
Oostenbrink hadn’t determined by Thursday whether any of the workers were suspended, fired or had quit.
He did hear unconfirmed rumours, however, that drugs such as cocaine and marijuana were found during the search.
Logan Lake RCMP said they did not attend and no arrests related to possible discovery of drugs were made.
The Construction Allied Workers Union is investigating, said Oostenbrink, and wants to meet with JVD as soon as possible.
“I would have a fear about (such searches becoming a precedent),” he said. “That’s why we want to meet with the company and investigate it right away and ensure that our members are protected.”
He emphasized that the union fully supports drug-free workplaces and has a strong treatment program in place for members with substance-abuse problems.
“We believe more strongly in a proactive approach that helps people rather than just tries to pick them off,” he said.
James Leland, business manager for Ironworkers Local 97, which also represents some of the contracted workers, was also caught completely off guard when he heard the news.
“We certainly are looking into it. Oh yes indeed,” he said when reached on Thursday.
He said he has never heard of such an incident happening in B.C.
Leland said none of the Ironworkers employees left the job. But the matter is far from concluded.
“We’ve filed a grievance and we’re following the proper procedures,” he said.
Richard Boyce, president of United Steelworkers local 7619, which represents the mine’s Teck employees, said although none of his members was impacted the situation still caused shockwaves.
“Let’s face it, the RCMP can’t even come in and have dogs search the premises without a warrant and without cause,” said Boyce.
“Sounds like to me like they’re bringing in some poison practices from some non-union or right-to-work states in the U.S.”
Boyce said United Steelworkers have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to substance abuse around the workplace, which they deal with “when we have cause.”
“It’s not one of these random kind of things that we just throw a big bunch of stuff at the wall thinking that at some stage we’re going to catch somebody.”