Thursday, November 11, 2010

Who Will Defend You if Your Drug or Alcohol Test Comes Back "Positive"?

Imagine you're pulled for a random alcohol test just before a flight and, to your surprise, the technician says it is positive. Or imagine the laboratory reports your drug test as positive to the medical review officer (MRO), who now holds your fate in his hands. What do you do?

If you're an ALPA member, you'll have backup. Your union's infrastructure includes safeguards that give pilots in this situation confidential support and assistance, along with referrals to professional resources available in your community. In fact, with the specialized knowledge of ALPA's attorneys, the expertise of ALPA's Aeromedical Office, the pilot volunteers who serve on the Pilot Assistance Committee, and resources to hire outside experts where necessary; ALPA pilots enjoy a long history of successes on cases involving controversial drug and alcohol testing. Your union will not rest until your medical record receives proper validation. That expertise is just a phone call away for every pilot ALPA represents.


ALPA's attorneys bring expertise and familiarity to the issues related to drug and alcohol testing that is unrivaled by any other organization in the industry. Their efforts have helped improve the drug and alcohol testing standards that are applied to you, giving ALPA represented pilots a powerful opportunity to challenge false and improper testing.


* Exposed Gross Laboratory Testing Misconduct: ALPA vindicated a wrongfully terminated Delta pilot, whose FAA certificates were revoked when the testing laboratory (LabOne) reported his urine sample had creatinine and specific gravity readings at the levels of water, and claimed that he "substituted" his sample. Despite this pilot's 20-year unblemished record and assertion of his innocence, neither the airline nor the FAA gave his claims any credence. ALPA appealed the enforcement action and grieved his firing.
* With the help of an expert forensic toxicologist, ALPA counsel investigated LabOne. Your lawyers procured boxes of laboratory records and exposed the laboratory's bad testing practices, costing the laboratory director his job. These ALPA efforts, on behalf of the pilot, exposed pervasive and gross laboratory misconduct, including: (1) use of malfunctioning equipment, (2) backdating documents, (3) destroying evidence, (4) using deteriorating controls that caused inaccurate results, (5) failing to comply with applicable standards, and (6) lying under oath by the laboratory director.
* ALPA succeeded in getting the pilot reinstated with all back pay and benefits, fully clearing his record with the FAA. Several previously fired Delta flight attendants were also cleared and reinstated.
* Ensured that Nationally Certified Laboratories Meet Regulatory Guidelines: As a result of ALPA's detection of laboratory errors and misconduct in handling validity tests, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ordered an emergency inspection of the national laboratories certified to conduct regulated testing. In that inspection, 40 or more of the 66 laboratories were found in noncompliance with the federal guidelines covering testing procedures. As a result, 300 test results previ- ously reported as "substituted" were ordered canceled by the government.
* Advocated Your Interests in Validity Testing Standards: ALPA sought and achieved stricter regulations governing validity testing and succeeded in getting the criteria for samples reported as "substituted" to be more favorable to employees. In response to rules proposed by DOT in 2000, ALPA submitted extensive comments critiquing the procedures for validity testing, including the cutoff levels for deeming a sample to be "substituted." ALPA vigorously contended that DOT's creatinine cutoff level was not low enough and risked branding innocent individuals who produce ultra-dilute urine as rule violators.
* DOT ultimately accepted ALPA's contentions, acknowledged that individuals produce urine below its creatinine cutoff without any wrongdoing on their part, and in May 2003 lowered the applicable threshold. DOT recently published a notice to employers establishing a "reconsideration" procedure for employees adversely affected before the rule change.
* Protected Pilots' Private Medical Records: ALPA helped a pilot avert an attempt by the government to order his private medical records released under threat of criminal prosecution. The Ll.S. Attorney filed a complaint against the residential treatment facility in which this pilot had received treatment, seeking the release of "John Doe" records by arguing that because this patient with an alcohol abuse problem is an airline pilot, he posed an immediate threat to airline safety, necessitating the release of his otherwise confidential medical records.
* Burning the midnight oil on the eve before the hearing, ALPA counsel worked with the Aeromedical Office and prepared evidence to defeat the government's actions. Once this evidence was given to the FAA, the FAA recognized that the pilot was taking appropriate steps and that the action sought by the U.s. Attorney was un- founded. ALPA's efforts succeeded in having the case dismissed.
* Reversed "Positive" Drug Tests, Keeping Healthy Pilots on the Line: ALPA's untiring efforts led to the reversal of a senior pilot's "positive" drug test. With the imminent demise of Independent Air, one proactive pilot applied for work at Gemini Air Cargo and was shocked to learn that her pre-employment drug test carne back positive for codeine. She quickly realized that the results were due to an over-the-counter cold medicine she had purchased legally in London and used prior to the interview. She promptly provided all of the relevant documentation to the medical review officer. The MRO refused to change the result despite the clear regulatory authority to do so.
* ALPA Legal pursued this matter, first with the FAA and then with the director of DOT's Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance. After months of unrelenting effort, ALPA finally procured a report from DOT stating that the MRO's actions were not founded, that maintaining the test as a positive would work an injustice on the employee, and that the positive result should be canceled and any records of the test expunged by the FAA and employer. This report and DOT's subsequent inter- vention caused the drug test to be canceled and the pilot's record cleared.
* In an interview with Air Line Pilot magazine (February 2007), the pilot, Margaret "Rosalind" Heinemann, stated: "There is no way I could have fought this on my own. All of ALPA's resources, including the ALPA Aeromedical Office and ALPA's Legal Department, were crucial to my being vindicated. The best part is that every second of help that I received over the year was included in my membership ben- efits as an ALPA member. The alternative would have been hiring a private attorney; and paying thousands of dollars-which I would never have been able to do. If it hadn't been for ALPA, I wouldn't have been able to get a job. For ALPA's assistance in saving my career, I am eternally grateful."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Who Will Help You After an Aircraft Accident or Incident?

You may think you will never be in an aircraft accident or need to use ALPA's services, but accidents, incidents, and other time-critical safety and security events do happen. As an ALPA member, you will benefit from a full-court press of trained pilot volunteers and professionals-generated on zero notice-coming to your rescue, fully briefed in every aspect of airline operations. They protect your reputation (and your family's), your job, and your livelihood and forge effective changes in the industry to improve your safety. ALPA has that. DPA can't match it.


An ALPA team with an arsenal of resources provides immediate and ongoing support for you in the event of an aircraft accident. From answering your initial call and navigating you through the complex investigation process to defending your actions with the company and government agencies and shielding you and your family from the news media, ALPA protects your reputation, your job, and your career while simultaneously improving your workplace by addressing the root causes of the accident in the overall aviation system.

ALPA-Provided Services

* ALPA's safety specialists and engineers cover every aspect of the accident investigation while supporting you and your pilot group through the entire process. This backing includes the 24-hour Accident Hotline; on-site accident assistance; conducting field- work, tests, and accident data analysis using sophisticated technical equipment; and building a persuasive argument to support your interests with the NTSB and the FAA.
* ALPA's communication and media specialists disseminate ALPA's advocacy for upgrades to the aviation system based on the accident's causal factors, improving your safety and security in the workplace. They also counter any misinformation that finds its way to the news media.
* ALPA's attorneys provide immediate and ongoing representation when your career and reputation are at stake. Their expertise and experience make them uniquely qualified to represent you when your certificate is on the line.