Opioid Addiction to Be Part of UAW Contract Negotiations

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Image: Ford

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Opioid addiction is on the rise in America and the United Auto Workers wants to confront the problem in its next round of collective bargaining. While the issue is most visible in parts of the Western United States, large pockets of the Midwest, South, and Northeast have cited an influx of drug overdoses since 2002.

The UAW, knowing that prescription medications are being increasingly abused by factory workers (as heroin simultaneously makes a comeback), wants to nip the issue in the bud. In addition to promoting job security, higher wages, and healthcare, union officials have identified combating opioids as an important element of future contract negotiations. 

According to the Detroit Free Press, Rory Gamble, UAW’s international vice president and director of the UAW Ford Department, addressed the matter at Detroit’s Cobo Center earlier this month. “I grew up in southwest Detroit. I’ve been exposed personally and socially and just in my entire life to the problems of substance abuse as a whole,” he said.

Gamble’s granddaughter died in January after exposure to fentanyl led to a drug overdose at a party she was attending. Her father had been working to mitigate the impact of addiction and drug abuse prior to the incident.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Manufacturing employees are exposed to injury from standing for long periods of time, repetitive motion and heavy lifting, and they seek treatment, which in the past two decades has increasingly come in the form of prescription painkillers containing codeine, oxycodone (such as OxyContin) or hydrocodone (such as Vicodin). Those pills can quickly result in addiction, in time leading some people to seek cheaper, more accessible heroin. Heroin today often is laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than morphine.

The union already is training its workers to respond to overdoses, and some have saved lives in factories by administering Narcan, a brand name for naloxone, a drug that can halt ODs. A pain treatment pilot study is underway examining alternatives to prescriptions, the union said.

The UAW is urging its members to be aware of the possible signs of addiction as it promotes awareness within the ranks. It’s also furnishing training efforts (sometimes with financial help from automakers) to help people better handle overdoses as they occur. The union’s opioid project was initially spun off from its ongoing commitment to help military veterans employed by the auto industry.

Todd Dunn, president of UAW Local 862 in Louisville, is a former army veteran who suffered opioid withdrawal after surgery on a work-related knee injury two decades ago. He praised Ford’s involvement in the program and for helping the UAW expand it into a general opioid treatment campaign. “We’re working toward addressing the opioid issue and the crisis that’s among us today,” Dunn told union leaders and members at their bargaining convention in Detroit.

“This is a nationwide issue that affects our employees and their families, just as it affects the communities in which they live,” said Bill Dirksen, Ford vice president for labor affairs. “We recognize how difficult this battle can be, so we have partnered with the UAW to help educate our employees about the issue and to provide support. It’s important for our employees to know that it’s OK to ask for help for themselves or for a loved one and to understand what resources are available.”

How all of this will manifest within collective agreements later this year is unknown; Gamble mentioned more treatment and rehabilitation programs. “Ford, GM and Chrysler have been on board with this thing going back a long way,” he said.

[Image: Ford]

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