When you read a lot of Help Wanted ads, you begin to notice certain patterns. One thing I’ve noticed is how common drug testing has become–for hourly jobs. In fact, if the employer is a midsized to large company, mandatory drug screening is now the norm for hourly workers. But not for most salaried employees. And the higher up you go, the less likely it is that you’ll encounter a drug testing requirement.
I was wondering why that might be. Are people who make very little money really more likely to spend that money on illegal drugs than people with plenty of discretionary income? That doesn’t seem likely. I admit, the constant stress and fear of not being able to pay your bills can make escape from reality a tempting proposition. Except, of course, that drugs tend to cost money, and it takes a hell of a lot more than a low wage job to finance a drug habit.
Maybe it’s just that employers, like many middle/upper class folks, have a rather low opinion of low income people. Poor people are lazy and have no work ethic. That’s why they’re poor, you see. Plus, they lie, steal, cheat, and they’re probably druggies too!*
It’s also possible, of course, that employers would love to drug test all those professional and managerial types as well, but they’re afraid people with options wouldn’t stand for that kind of privacy invasion. So they focus their ought-to-be-unconstitutional drug screening efforts on people who have few options. My partner and I strongly object to drug testing, but will that keep us from applying for a job that requires it? Sadly, no. Because we desperately need the work.
We live in a society where the level of privacy, autonomy, and dignity accorded to an individual is strongly correlated with power and wealth. When Florida legislators mandated drug testing for state employees but exempted themselves, was it because they couldn’t imagine people like themselves using drugs? Or was it because they believe very strongly that someone of their stature shouldn’t be subjected to indignities such as drug testing? My money is on the latter.
It’s a well-known fact that many high-powered professionals, particularly on Wall Street and in the entertainment industry, enjoy their nose candy, but no one cares as long as they’re able to do their jobs. Indeed, one could argue that Wall Street’s widespread use of cocaine, a drug known to make users overly confident, self-centered and prone to impulsiveness and risk-taking, fueled the reckless conduct that precipitated our ongoing economic crisis. Yet no one is suggesting that Wall Street players be subjected to drug screening. Instead, we’re seeing unprecedented efforts to mandate drug testing for welfare recipients–the victims of the economic collapse engineered by Wall Street.
Still, they’re going to be people who’ll argue that widespread drug testing of lower income employees is simply motivated by concerns about workplace safety and lost productivity, just like drug testing of welfare recipients is supposedly motivated by nothing more than a desire to save tax dollars otherwise spent on illegal drugs. Yeah, right.
Drug testing welfare recipients has actually been shown to cost tax payers more money than it saves, nor has it reduced the number of new applicants. That’s because, not surprisingly at all, illegal drug use is rare among families receiving public assistance. When a welfare recipient does test positive, it’s almost invariably for marijuana, which is not indicative of having a drug habit or, for that matter, having spent money on drugs (friends with weed tend to be very generous when it comes to sharing their herbal refreshments).
But what about workplace safety and diminished productivity concerns? Turns out that the so-called studies in support of employee drug screening are funded by–surprise, surprise–the drug testing industry! The National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Drug Use in the Workplace conducted a comprehensive review of the independent research on workplace drug use and concluded that “the data … do not provide clear evidence of the deleterious effects of drugs other than alcohol on safety and other job performance indicators.” Moreover, employees who tested positive for drugs were no more likely to be involved in a workplace accident than those who tested negative.
If drug testing has no effect on workplace safety or productivity, why subject workers–and particularly hourly wage slaves–to demeaning drug screening procedures? Because this degrading ritual is designed to humiliate workers and let them know that their employer owns them–on-the-job and off-the-job. Incidentally, employee drug testing is primarily about policing what workers do when they’re not at work. Not only do most illegal drug users limit their drug taking to off-duty hours, but urinalysis, the usual employee drug testing method, may not reveal very recent drug use since it takes a while for drug metabolites to show up in urine. Evening and weekend drug use, on the other hand, can be detected with ease.
But why is it your employer’s business if you prefer to unwind with a joint instead of a beer after a hard day at work? Because, if you lack the socioeconomic background that entitles you to be treated with respect and dignity, everything you do is your employer’s business and you better get used to it. I suspect that workers who must submit to drug testing as a condition of employment (particularly when drug screening procedures require them to remove their clothes and put on an easy-access hospital gown or, worse yet, require that they be watched while collecting the urine sample) will be less inclined to object to other indignities and injustices at work. Demeaned and demoralized, they’re more likely to “know their place” and not make trouble. And that’s the idea.
Conservative asshole Brion McClanahan did a splendid job summing up the position of these employers when he argued that people who fall on hard times without the benefit of a middle or upper class family background should be drug tested every month because:
Food stamp recipients are, after all, wards of the state. They are slaves to the government and should be reminded of that fact. If a recipient is found to have tobacco or drugs in his system, he would be dropped from the program. People on government aid would also lose the privilege of voting. That way they couldn’t vote for greater benefits or easier terms
Now try this instead:
Hourly workers are, after all, wards of their employer. They are slaves to the company and should be reminded of that fact. If a worker is found to have tobacco or drugs in his system, he would be dismissed from the company. The working poor and near-poor would also lose the privilege of voicing grievances and collective bargaining. That way they couldn’t organize for greater benefits or easier terms
Yep, that sounds about right.
* Just to be clear, I strongly disagree that being a user of illegal drugs automatically makes one a bad, irresponsible, weak, immoral, negative-adjective-of-choice person, nor do I believe that all illegal drug users are in need of intervention, treatment, rehabilitation, whatever. Alas, mine is obviously not the mainstream view.