August 25, 2015 5:00 PM, EDT

ATA Critical of Organized Labor's Claims About Hair Testing for Drug Use

TT File Photo

In a letter to congressional transportation leaders, American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said critical claims made by organized labor groups about the use of hair specimens for drug testing of commercial drivers are based on “false notions and outdated science.”

“Every day, thousands of hair tests are performed worldwide within both the private and public sectors,” Graves said in an Aug. 24 letter. “Many Fortune 500 companies like General Motors, Kraft Foods, Shell Oil and British Petroleum use hair testing to identify drug users before they enter their operations.

“Also, dozens of large U.S. trucking companies likes J.B. Hunt Transport, Knight Transportation, Maverick Transportation and Schneider conduct hair testing as part of their drug-use prevention programs.”

Several transportation groups and key unions on Aug. 20 sent a letter calling on transportation leaders in the House to reject a provision in a multiyear highway bill that would allow the use of hair testing for commercial drivers.

“These legislative proposals arbitrarily grant motor carriers the ability to use this unsubstantiated method of testing,” wrote the AFL-CIO’s transportation division with 17 other groups. “It is widely known that hair specimens can test positive for a drug that its donor was merely exposed to but never actually ingested.”

The labor groups’ letter also said hair testing is racially biased.

Accredited hair-testing laboratories employ robust washing processes, now standard in the industry, to rid samples of external contamination, Graves said. He noted the racial bias claim is “also without merit,” saying the Transportation Research Board published a synthesis of research on drug and alcohol testing in the truck and bus industries, including a review of alternative specimens.

“Though some found drug levels were slightly higher in darker-color hair, none of the reviewed articles found direct support for the race bias hypothesis,” Graves said. “The publication went on to point out that the apparent inconsistency in hair color may be explained by the fact that different ethnic groups have different patterns of drug use.”

Graves said hair testing is an effective tool for identifying drug users due its long detection window and because it is difficult for donors to beat.

“For instance, Schneider, one of the largest for-hire trucking companies in the United States, identified 2,066 driver applicants who had used drugs based on hair test results; only 182 of them had tested positive on urine tests,” Graves wrote. “Hence, 1,884 drug users could have been driving for Schneider if they had not implemented a hair testing program for pre-employment screening.”