WASHINGTON — The Transportation Trades Department (TTD), AFL-CIO, is urging the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to follow established protocol and put science first by denying a petition by several trucking companies to use hair specimens in lieu of federally mandated urine tests in pre-employment drug screening.
In comments filed April 25, TTD pushed back against the petition citing concerns over the reliability, accuracy and fairness of hair testing.
Studies show that hair testing can produce false results, and may have an inherent racial bias, TTD said in its comments, noting that darker and more porous hair retains some drugs at greater rates than lighter hair, and hair specimens can test positive for drugs drivers never ingested.
“No one in America should be denied employment because the trucking industry wants to rely on an unsound testing method as a way to cut drug-testing costs,” said TTD President Edward Wytkind. “Until hair testing is proven to be a reliable and fair way of testing for drug use and federal standards are in place, subjecting transportation workers to hair testing should not be up for serious consideration.”
Unlike urine tests, which the TTD said are the most accurate and reliable method for pre-employment drug testing, hair testing lacks federal oversight.
Relying on hair testing as a condition of employment could unfairly hinder a driver’s chance to earn a livelihood, and sets a threatening precedent that could affect millions of workers in the transportation sector and across the economy, the TTD comments said.
This isn’t the first time trucking companies have requested a government exemption from urine testing, Wytkind said.
Congress rejected a similar attempt when it passed the FAST Act in 2015.
Language in the bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue scientific and technical guidelines on hair testing and permits bus and truck companies to perform pre-employment hair tests only after HHS guidelines are issued.
This reflects the standard that the Department of Transportation has adhered to since 1991, when Congress mandated that DOT follow HHS guidelines in creating federal drug test standards.
“By petitioning FMCSA with the same request Congress ultimately denied, these trucking companies are circumventing a long-established process that rightfully allows scientists, not employers or politicians, to determine which testing methods and procedures are approved and implemented,” Wytkind said. “Deviating from that process undermines scientific standards and sets a dangerous precedent that could have far-reaching consequences.”
In addition to the comments filed by TTD, civil rights groups, including the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP, ACLU and National Workrights Institute, also sent a letter urging FMCSA to deny the petition, citing the racial biases and false results associated with hair testing.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-DC, have also called on FMCSA to deny the petition, calling the use of hair testing premature and a contradiction of Congressional intent, the TTD noted.