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Delta Drug Testing Debacle

The Association of Flight Attendants, AFL-CIO, urged Delta Air Lines CEO Leo Mullin today to fix the airline’s drug testing program which has resulted in the firing of flight attendants who did not test positive for drug use.

“We support the idea of a drug free workplace, but we also believe in fairness,” said Patricia Friend, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. “The results of recent tests call into question Delta’s drug testing program. Delta should bring back all those who were fired while it makes the changes needed to restore the flight attendants faith in the integrity of the testing process.”

Recently, Delta fired a veteran flight attendant with a spotless work record and absolutely no history of drug use. Portland-based flight attendant Yasuko Ishikawa was terminated after submitting to a random drug test because her urine sample was judged “not consistent with human urine.” Delta refused to consider explanations for the unusual reading and denied Ishikawa the opportunity to retake the test. Drinking large quantities of water (as recommended by the airline), low body weight, and diet may have influenced Ishikawa’s test results. Even though there was never any evidence of drugs in her system, Ishikawa’s seven year career as a flight attendant came to an abrupt end.

In addition to Ishikawa, at least five and perhaps as many as 12 flight attendants have been fired for urine samples “not consistent with human urine” following the screening tests.

In her letter to Mullin, Friend said that she had also written Department of Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater to point out the flaws in the current testing regime.

A copy of the letter to Mullin is below.

Delta employs approximately 20,000 flight attendants at bases in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, Portland, Boston, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Chicago, New Orleans, and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Delta is the only major airline where flight attendants don’t have a voice on the job. Delta flight attendants are organizing to win an AFA contract in their workplace.

AFA is the world’s largest flight attendant union, representing 47,000 flight attendants at 26 airlines.

Patricia A. Friend, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants, sent the following letter, dated Feb. 25, to Mr. Leo F. Mullin, Chairman and CEO of Delta Air Lines:
I am writing to ask you to rectify the dismissals of a number of Delta flight attendants, caught up unfairly in the company’s drug testing program. We are committed to a drug-free workplace, just as you are. But we cannot fail to act when the accuracy of the procedures calls the legitimacy of the results into question.
I have written to Secretary Slater of the Department of Transportation to point out the flaws in the current testing regime. (A copy of that letter is attached). It is clear to us from our research that the screening tests now employed, as they are designed in the regulations and as they are implemented at Delta, are resulting in false accusations of adulteration of urine samples. We will also be submitting our formal comments on the subject in the rulemaking process that is underway.

I am particularly alarmed at the high incidence of flight attendants being fired at Delta as a result of the screening test when compared to other carriers. AFA represents 47,000 flight attendants at 26 airlines, and yet we are aware of only three cases involving termination for low creatinine levels at all of those airlines. This is in stark contrast to Delta where we have confirmed that at least five (and perhaps as many as 12) flight attendants have been fired for urine samples ‘not consistent with human urine’ following the screening tests.

Flight attendants at those other carriers have been reinstated when AFA brought to the attention of management the mitigating circumstances and flaws in the testing regime that could account for the test results. As you can see from the attached letter to Secretary Slater, these factors include gender, ethnicity, weight, diet, water consumption, medications, etc.

In order to restore the integrity of the drug testing program at Delta, and to ensure that flight attendants are not unfairly terminated from their careers, I ask you to re-evaluate Delta’s drug testing practices. I also ask that you reinstate all of the flight attendants terminated because of this aspect of the testing procedures, including Yasuko Ishikawa, formerly based in Portland. I think, if you investigate this matter as management at other airlines has done, you will find ample grounds to immediately overturn the initial decision to terminate these flight attendants. And, if the drug testing regulations are ultimately revised to reflect AFA’s concerns – as I believe they will be – it is only fair to reinstate the flight attendants who were terminated while the rule remained in effect.

Thank you for looking into this important issue. I look forward to hearing from you.

Posted by A. Shapiro
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