Autoworkers Union Makes Opioid Addiction Treatment A Negotiation Priority

Opioids is wreaking havoc on the auto industry and unions are stepping up to the plate to get treatment for their members.

Automotive News reports:

“People are dying.

They’re dying across the country — an average of more than 130 people a day amid the deadliest U.S. drug epidemic in the modern era. But the fast-spreading opioid crisis has taken an especially large toll in Kentucky, where Ford Motor Co. has nearly 14,000 workers at two of its biggest assembly plants.

It’s just a matter of statistics, UAW Local 862 President Todd Dunn says, that the casualties include some of those workers and their families.

‘When you look at the Kentucky Truck Plant, you basically have two aircraft carriers’ worth of people,’ Dunn told Automotive News. ‘There’s not one person that’s not touched in some way or another from opioid use, opioid death, suicide or overdose.’

More help preventing and treating opioid misuse is high on the UAW’s agenda for this year’s contract negotiations with the Detroit 3.

‘The issue demands that we get involved, and it demands that we set an example of combating it in a positive way — the union and the company,’ UAW Vice President Rory Gamble, whose granddaughter died of an opioid overdose in January, told Automotive News. ‘We have to grab this thing and address it now.’

Auto plants are fertile ground for addiction, as the repetitive, physically demanding labor leads to frequent injuries and chronic pain. Generous medical plans then provide low-cost access to powerful drugs.

‘I don’t believe that the UAW and the automakers should have necessarily seen this coming, because I don’t think a lot of other people did,’ said Jeremy Milloy, a postdoctoral fellow at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada, who has studied drug and alcohol use in North American workplaces over the last 50 years.

‘But now that they are dealing with this situation, it’s a really obvious time for them to say that policies based on surveillance and stigmatization have failed,’ Milloy said. ‘They can’t work in a system where the No. 1 most-abused drug is a licit one being prescribed through company health plans.’

The union is seeking an expansion of employer-funded, union-administered assistance programs aimed at preventing the use of prescription painkillers from turning into harmful, long-term dependence. It also wants to ensure that workers can seek help without fear of retribution by their employer so they would be less likely to hide an addiction to maintain their paycheck.

The UAW’s goals include formalizing efforts started by the automakers since the current contract was signed in 2015. General Motors implemented a pharmacy program in the fall of 2017 to curb the quantity of short-acting opioids employees can receive after simple surgeries. The company also promotes safe opioid use and disposal through annual seminars and communications. Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles say they have initiated similar programs.

GM, in a statement, said it ‘recognizes this is an issue that impacts communities and families nationwide’ and that it is ‘dedicated to ensuring a culture of safety, both at home and in the workplace.’

For the rest of the story, visit Automotive News here.

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