Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 12:01 am
Keep on trucking
Test at issue after crash
A Springfield Park District employee who triggered a six-car accident last fall by neglecting to set the parking brake on a district garbage truck began a 10-day suspension this week.
But consequences could have been more serious for Jesse Bushnell, who tested positive for marijuana metabolites after his driverless truck rolled backward down a hill in Washington Park on Oct. 7 and plowed into parked cars, causing, all told, nearly $35,000 in damage, with the park district picking up a $1,000 deductible.
Rather than call in an outside agency, park district police handled the matter internally, with Bushnell receiving a citation for improper backing from park police. Bushnell pleaded guilty to the improper backing infraction in November.
But Bushnell wasn’t charged with driving under the influence, even though it is illegal to drive in Illinois with any amount of marijuana metabolite in one’s system (metabolites show that someone has consumed marijuana recently, but not whether a person is under the influence). Bushnell paid a $235 fine and is due to return to work in less than two weeks, with no requirement that he be evaluated by a drug abuse expert or tested in the future to ensure on-the-job sobriety.
At least one park board member says the punishment isn’t sufficient.
“My personal opinion is, there should have been more,” said board member Ted Flickinger. “What bothers me the most is, the union intervened and said it’s in their contract: ‘You can’t test employees.’ They supported him. What kind of union is that?”
The drug policy in the district’s collective bargaining agreement with Bushnell’s union begins by stating that the district doesn’t test employees for drugs or alcohol. Then the policy states that employees can’t use drugs or alcohol at work or report for duty while under the influence.
How can the park district know whether employees are following the drug-free workplace policy if drug testing isn’t allowed?
“That’s a good question,” Flickinger allowed. “I think what’s going to happen, because of this case, that’s one of the things we’re going to have to work with the union on. We’ve got to have testing.”
But Bushnell won’t face further testing under the union contract, according to Derek Harms, interim parks director.
“The contract doesn’t specifically describe management’s right to do any kind of drug test,” Harms said. “The employee in question was determined by law enforcement officers and supervisors to not be acting under the influence of any controlled substance. As we reviewed the employee file, there was no history of performance or discipline problems. We see this as an isolated incident.”
Things might have gone differently in the city of Springfield, which has both random drug testing and mandatory testing for any municipal employee involved in a motor vehicle accident, regardless of who was at fault, according to Stephanie Barton, the city’s labor relations manager. An employee who tests positive faces an automatic 30-day suspension and must pass a drug test before returning to work, Barton said, and is subject to unannounced drug tests for one year after returning to work. A second positive test within one year is grounds for automatic discharge, she added.
Bushnell told park police that he had exited the truck to pick up garbage cans outside restrooms near the playground at Washington Park when the truck rolled away from him. After crashing into one parked car, the runaway truck crossed a grassy area before rolling into another parking area and slamming into a second parked car, setting off a chain reaction as cars parked in a row smashed into each other. Two vehicles, at least one a complete loss, were towed. The tab to fix the truck came to nearly $2,500.
“Thankfully, nobody was injured during this incident,” Harms wrote in an October email to board members notifying them of the mishap.
State’s Attorney John Milhiser said that the incident was handled entirely by the park district, which treated the matter as an ordinance violation.
“It was prosecuted by the park district’s attorney,” Milhiser said. “We have not received any information.”
Flickinger said that he believes the park district should have called in an outside law enforcement agency after the positive marijuana test.
Board member Robin Schmidt said she trusts management to discipline employees, but the district should revisit the issue of drug testing. Cost, she said, is a concern.
“I think it’s definitely worth looking at,” Schmidt said. “Quite frankly, can we afford it right now?”
Contact Bruce Rushton at email@example.com.