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