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Poll Results Suggest High On-the-Job Drug Use in State

June 14, 1990|GEORGE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thirty-seven percent of California workers know of co-workers using illegal drugs on the job, according to a new Gallup survey. That is a far higher percentage than in the nation as a whole and provides fresh evidence that California may have a more serious workplace drug problem than the rest of the country.

The survey, released in Los Angeles Wednesday, also shows that California workers overwhelmingly believe employers should have the right to perform drug tests on job applicants and on workers suspected of drug abuse.

The findings underscore a recent Times Orange County Poll that found nearly one-fourth of local workers felt that drugs and alcohol were being abused in their workplace and a large majority approved of employer drug testing.

The survey, performed by the New Jersey-based Gallup Organization, was commissioned by the corporate-sponsored Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace as the fourth in a series of national and state surveys on employee attitudes on drug use. It was based on a poll of 501 employed people conducted in April. The margin for error is plus or minus 4.4%.

The institute has sponsored similar polls in Delaware and Wisconsin and released results of a national survey last December.

"The drug problem is bigger for California employers," said Mark A. de Bernardo, the institute's executive director.

For example, 46% of the California workers claimed personal knowledge of drug use by co-workers before or after work hours--significantly higher than the 31% figure from the national survey.

And only 24% of respondents in the national poll said there was on-the-job drug use at their workplace, versus California's 37%.

In a recent Times Poll, conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates, 22% of the 600 Orange County workers polled said that drug and alcohol abuse was a problem in their workplace. But only 3% saw it as a major problem.

However, the poll also shows that many Californians consider drugs to be a major problem and support efforts to stem drug abuse.

By a margin of 62% to 25%, workers said employers should have the right to test job applicants. In addition, 63% of the respondents favored denial of employment to job applicants who test positive for drugs.

By 64% to 22%, employees said employers should have the right to test employees suspected of drug use. Of those employed at companies that have drug use policies, only 3% considered those rules and procedures "too strong," while 22% said the policies were "not strong enough."

"This means California workers are increasingly intolerant of drug use," de Bernardo said.

The feeling is even stronger in Orange County. The Times Poll found that 76% approved of drug testing by employers.

The institute is headquartered in Washington and financed by some of the nation's largest companies. Its survey drew praise from corporate executives at the press conference Wednesday. Lloyd C. Loomis, senior labor counsel for Arco, said companies can ensure a safer workplace by adopting drug testing programs.

"If a company fails to test applicants, it's inviting druggies into the workplace," Loomis said. "When proper drug testing occurs in the workplace, there is employee support."

At the same time, only 46% of respondents thought employers should have the right to randomly test any employee for drug use.

Random testing has become a controversial legal issue. The California Supreme Court last month rejected attempts by employers to force workers to submit to random test. The justices let stand two appeals court rulings that declared that the state constitutional right to privacy protects employees from being dismissed solely for refusing to submit to random drug tests.

Institute officials, however, said courts have supported the legality of drug tests for job positions that are "safety sensitive." The survey results will be sent to state legislators to encourage them to write laws that will support anti-drug efforts by employers, they said.

BACKGROUND

A separate study last month by the American Management Assn. showed that Californians are more than twice as likely as other American workers to flunk a drug test. On the legal front, the California Supreme Court recently upheld a ruling prohibiting employers from forcing employees to take random drug tests.

WHO SHOULD BE TESTED? Gallup surveyed 501 Californians employed full time in various jobs. They were asked about occupations for which drug testing would be a "good idea." Occupation % 'Good idea' Airline pilots 95 Transportation workers 92 Workers in safety-sensitive 92 jobs Truck drivers 89 Health-care workers 86 Construction workers 78 Utility workers 73 Factory workers 70 People in your occupation 65 Office workers 50

Source: Gallup Organization via Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace

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