By: George Garneau
Phoenix Newspapers Inc. fires 22 production employees and
suspends 28 others for dealing or using drugs at work sp.
PHOENIX NEWSPAPERS Inc. said it has fired 22 employees and suspended 28 others for allegedly dealing drugs or being high on the job at the company’s two production plants.
Production director Bob Kotwasinski said those fired either bought, sold or provided drugs to undercover private investigators, and those suspended either used drugs on the job or reported to work under the influence.
“We’re talking about purchases made on company time and on company property,” Kotwasinski said, charging the offenders violated company policy.
Phoenix Newspapers, publisher of the Phoenix Gazette and Arizona Republic, said it had remanded to Phoenix police evidence ? including undisclosed quantities of marijuana and crystal methedrine ? collected by private detectives during the undercover investigation. Police had turned over the evidence and investigative reports to the Maricopa County attorney’s office. No arrests had been made as E&P went to press.
The company went public on March 18 with a statement that investigators from the security firm MarTech Inc. had been working undercover in the newspapers’ plants “for some time.” It immediately suspended with pay 55 workers, mostly mailers, pending disciplinary action while investigators and newspaper officials began interviews with the suspects.
The firings and suspensions without pay, ranging from 15 to 90 days in duration, were announced April 4. Five suspended employees returned to work without penalty.
Besides hiring investigators working undercover as employees, the probe used “other investigative techniques,” including videotapes, to develop evidence.
The investigation focused on the mailrooms of the company’s Deer Valley and Mesa plants. All but two of those disciplined were mailers. The disciplined workers were not identified.
Thomas Holmes, business agent of Teamsters Local 401, which represents 120 paper handlers, janitors and others, said the investigation was designed to “intimidate” workers into implicating themselves and others.
One Local 401 member was suspended for 30 days and ordered to undergo drug testing. The union has filed a grievance and has asked the company for evidence but has received none.
Kotwasinski said it would emerge in the course of the proceedings.
“I think they went on a fishing expedition to scare people and get them to sign things because they were afraid,” Holmes said. He said investigators asked employees to waive their right to representation before being interviewed and tried to quiet him during an interview.
The Phoenix Mailers Union, Teamsters Local 752, which represents nearly 400 mailers, voiced similar complaints.
Union president Bill Gibson said MarTech investigators used “a lot of coercion and browbeating.” He cited interviews lasting up to six hours, questions delivered loudly, a male employee threatened with losing his daughter, and a woman driven to tears.
“They weren’t interviews,” Gibson said. “They were more or less interrogations.”
“I don’t believe anything that was done was inappropriate,” said Marshall Anstandig, an attorney for the newspapers. He said he was not surprised that the unions complained about the questioning, since “a fairly sizable number” of the disciplined workers admitted to drug use and signed statements saying so.
Because all employees had the right to representation and most availed themselves of it, “to say they were coerced is pretty specious,” Anstandig said. He conceded that some interviews were long but said there were breaks, and workers always had the right to leave when they wanted.
Phoenix Newspapers, a subsidiary of Indianapolis-based Central Newspapers Inc., said allegations emerged last year about possible drug and alcohol abuse. Kotwasinski said the private investigator was hired because police undercover agents were not available.
The company since the early 1980s has maintained a drug policy requiring job applicants to undergo urine tests, and allowing management to test employees who are involved in accidents or who behave erratically. Another part of the the company-paid plan, the Employee Assistance Program, is designed to provide treatment for workers who seek help with abuse problems.
The newspapers reported on the investigation and the disciplinary actions but did not report union objections.