At freedom's cradle: Drug testing sparks outrage
Are Monticello guides snorting up lines in the fancy bathrooms of the new Visitor Center? Are the horiculturists secretly growing cannabis in Mr. Jefferson's gardens? In short, has a major drug problem erupted at the internationally famous UNESCO World Heritage Site?
In a word, no, at least not as far as the Hook could discover, and a guffaw is the typical response when such questions are posed to current and past employees. Yet, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello, has begun implementing a "drug-free workplace policy" that randomly drug tests all employees. And many aren't laughing.
"I think it's bullsh*t," says one. "It creates a climate of fear."
"Way overboard," says another. "It's an unnecessary invasion of the body."
Both of these employees, who are around 60 and usually outspoken citizens, asked that their names not be used in this article because of fear for their jobs. And they're not the only people holding these truths to be self-defeating.
"I think it's insulting," says former employee Dorothy Buschi, who retired in 2001. "It insults our integrity.
"It was like a family," remembers Buschi, who treasures over two decades employment at Monticello. And when people work so closely together, she says, anyone impaired by drug use would be noticeable.
Nonetheless, the policy, announced in late May, began sending employees to the toilet October 13.
"Random drug testing is a best practice employed by many organizations and institutions, especially those that deal extensively with the public, as we do," says Monticello spokesman Wayne Mogielnicki in an emailed statement.
Was the policy to get lower insurance premiums, as suggested by an outraged employee? "We decline further comment," replies Mogielnicki, who also refuses to say how many of Monticello's 343 employees were tested and what happens to employees who don't pass.
Were there incidents of drug-crazed behavior or accidents that prompted the policy? "I decline to comment," says Mogielnicki, a former newspaper editor, who refuses to provide a copy of the foundation's pee-in-a-cup policy.
An email obtained by the Hook sent to employees from human resources director Angela Jeanne Butler explains the six reasons why current employees–- even the docents–- might randomly get chosen to urinate into a container.
Reason #2: Solidarity with shuttle bus drivers, who are subject to federal law that requires testing of transportation workers, such as airline pilots, truck drivers, and train engineers.
"We do not want anyone or any work group singled out," writes Butler. "We are all one team."
Number 3 reiterates that employees work with the public–- and children. The desire to attract and retain the "best and brightest" employees is reason #4. Reason #5 is that organizations similar to Monticello are already doing this, according to the May 29 email.
Intrigued, the Hook checked with another local presidential home, Montpelier, and with historic Winterthur in Delaware, which was headed by Monticello's new director, Leslie Bowman, at the time of her 2008 hiring. Neither randomly tests its employees. And despite lots of muskets and blackmithery, nor does Colonial Williamsburg.
"We do drug test as a condition of employment," says Williamsburg communications director Tom Shrout, and, he adds, "if there is cause, such as an accident."
What about a place that daily deals with life and death situations– and also is associated with Thomas Jefferson? The UVA Medical Center has pre-employment drug testing, but does not randomly test, according to spokesman Peter Jump.
Last on the HR memo of reasons why random drug testing at Monticello is a good idea: reduced insurance premiums. "This is saved money that we can use for other purposes," writes Butler. After all, Monticello laid off three full-time employees in July during a recession-related reorganization.
"In my day, I was unaware of any drug issues– not a single instance," says former Monticello president Dan Jordan, who retired as the institution's leader after 24 years last November. He declines to comment on the new policy.
Jordan calls back to add, "In my day, Monticello operated as a family with a culture of trust." He says that human resources had a program for confidentially dealing with addictions of various types. "When I said I wasn't aware, there may have been confidential treatments, but I wasn't aware of any."
Under the new policy, employees' bodies aren't the only things subject to their employer's examination. Their cars, too, can be searched while on Thomas Jefferson Foundation property, as can lunch boxes and "other personal articles."
Says an employee, who emphasizes that she does not use drugs: "I really feel like Thomas Jefferson would not pee in a cup."
–headline changed: 125pm Monday
–original headline: Drug problem? Monticello employees randomly tested