Tag Archives: The New Jim Crow

Drugs at Work

I am not an airline pilot or heart surgeon. In fact, nothing I do professionally could lead to the death or salvation of another human life. Yet a shocking number of potential employers would like me to pee in a cup before copyediting their ads, researching their articles or ghostwriting their memoirs.

I’m newly unemployed — underemployed actually, since I’ve managed to snag a few paid speaking gigs and copyediting jobs here and there — and my recent  discovery of drug testing mania for jobs involving zero physical risk is a bit troubling. Not because I’m worried about passing these tests, but I find the invasion of privacy for someone engaged in nothing more potentially injurious than comma insertions and syntactic guidance outrageous.

No, Yellowpages, I will not submit to an anal probe for the privilege of editing phonebook ads!

Why do so many businesses require drug testing for all employees? Web sites that advertise pre-employment drug testing cite “US Department of Labor estimates that drug use in the workplace costs employers $75 to $100 billion dollars annually in lost time, accidents, health care and workers compensation costs.”

Setting aside for a moment that many jobs don’t even offer health benefits anymore, why stop at this particular labor cost? How about banning Facebook, smartphone use or any number of genuine profit-suckers — like having families — from employees’ lives?

According to some studies, the average office worker spends 18 hours per week checking out bargains on Zappos, updating social media and generally spacing out from sheer boredom. That’s $759 billion per year, putting those silly nighttime bong-hitting, doobie-smoking wastrels to shame.

And don’t even get me started on the work hours lost to parents having to deal with their kids’ illnesses, parent-teacher conferences or other such anti-productive activities, like going to the bathroom.

As with all moralistic crusades with a veneer of economic benefit, when it comes to drug testing the poor are targeted for the worst abuse. Not surprisingly, Arizona, the state that first legalized racial profiling of immigrants, was the first to test welfare recipients for drugs in 2009. Guess what? Of the 87,000 people tested, exactly one person was found with drugs in their system.

Florida — ever in the vanguard of passing racist, anti-poor, reactionary legislation — not only tried testing all welfare applicants for drugs last year, but had them pay the $30 to $40 cost for doing so (though money was reimbursed to those who tested negative). Of those who took the test, 2.7% tested positive.

Let’s face it, the war on drugs is about policing the behavior of workers and the poor, in particular Blacks, as Michelle Alexander details in her brilliant book, The New Jim Crow. As Alexander wrote recently:

The drug war has been brutal — complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods — but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought.  This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates.  In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth.  Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data.  White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.

It’s a war that’s been devastating Black and Brown communities for decades and it  seems to be quite adaptable to a broader swath of the U.S. population as times get tougher.

Bourbon-soaked legislators wagging accusatory fingers at poor people who don’t share Rush Limbaugh’s privilege of access to prescription drugs are waging a war of control over a  workforce in social and economic decline.

Study after study shows the relatively harmless effects of the primary drug, weed, that is sending hundreds of thousands to jail and pushing people out of the labor force or off food stamp assistance. Now the chatter is about drug testing those applying for unemployment insurance, as if the indignities we must endure to collect the maximum benefit of $405 a week (in NY state) aren’t enough.

An estimated 100 million Americans have tried pot, including the current and last two presidents, and more than 17 million use it regularly, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.  And the economic and social justifications for the drug war have been destroyed by medical, legal and other authorities for years.

It seems that as the economy worsens and ordinary people begin to resist the imposition of never-ending austerity, illicit drugs have become the justification for police-state powers of a 1% drunk on power, fear and martinis.

Don’t even think of missing Socialism 2012: Educate. Agitate. Occupy.