By on March 21, 2019

2018 Ford F150 assembly line -Image: Ford

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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25 Comments on “Opioid Addiction to Be Part of UAW Contract Negotiations...”

  • avatar

    This seems so stupid.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, that didn’t take long. Why is it so stupid? It is moving up the ladder of killers in the United States. It knows no boundaries based on race, income, gender, education, or geography. You clearly have never had to deal with chronic pain and experienced, or watched a love one experience how it grinds you down.

      There are mountains of evidence that big pharma buried research that showed how addictive the prescription pills are, guidance to deal with complaints of lower effectiveness directly from the drug makers called for prescribing larger doses.

      Person becomes addicted, doctor says no more pills, they buy on the street until they can’t afford the pills anymore, switch to heroin as it is cheaper, lose job, can’t get treatment because no job no health insurance and good luck getting a public healthcare bed for drug treatment, they end up in a back alley doing hand jobs for a fix until dead.

      It is a huge problem. My wife is a physician at one of the busiest trauma hospitals in the nation, she sees the impact every day, and our government is doing – NOTHING. If private enterprise is stepping in to fill the hole, I’m all for it.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes because the .gov has helped in almost every problem is has undertaken to solve… Nothing has every become more expensive or less troublesome when the government gets involved…
        The problem is not the lack of government involvement or private enterprise. The problem is the person who is addicted.

        • 0 avatar

          … what does this have to do with government, though?

          UAW is going to negotiate for addiction-prevention/remediation benefits as part of future contracts.

          (I’m not sure why it’s worth a TTAC article, myself, any more than any other random thing they decide to negotiate for.)

          • 0 avatar

            Some folks have .gov on the brain, I guess.

            But it’s always fun to watch people complain about .gov on the Internet, which got its’ start from .gov.

        • 0 avatar

          “The problem is the person who is addicted.”

          these are people who became addicted to medication given to them by their doctor (someone they assumed they could trust) and are left to rot. All because the Sacklers @ Purdue Pharma could make billions.

          1) convince doctors your opioid painkiller has “almost no risk of causing addiction”
          2) doctors hand them out like Halloween candy
          3) Surprise! People get hooked on them!
          4) Profit!
          5) come up with a new medication to treat overdose to address the symptoms of the problem YOU caused
          6) Profit even more!!

          Sounds like the free market is the problem here.

        • 0 avatar

          .gov had a responsibility to properly evaluate the effectiveness and SAFETY of the pain medications, along with dosing and how to wean off. They abdicated that responsibility to private enterprise. Worked great – we are a nation of addicts.

      • 0 avatar
        James Charles

        I agree with you and I’ll go one step further, the drug companies should cough up a lot of money as well.

        The opiod epidemic in the US is a societal issue so society (government) should show leadership and ownership.

        Drug company shareholders should live with lower dividends. Regulations need to be introduced to force ethical behaviour on business as well.

      • 0 avatar

        @APaGttH…Well said. Kudos to people like your wife, and all the other front line health folks that deal with this everyday .

    • 0 avatar
      Todd Priest


  • avatar

    I just finished Mary Walton’s “Car” a few days ago. One of the last chapters was about the 900 or so people getting hired on in Atlanta to build the new 1996 Taurus.

    What struck me was one of the supervisors telling the new recruits that if they have a job that pays similar to the Ford plant, they should keep it, because the physical pain that comes with working on an assembly line is not something you can prepare for.

    One worker was quoted at the end of his first day, as planning to stock his lunch pail with Advil for day #2. Today, that would likely be something much stronger. Who would have thought the 90’s were a more innocent time for drug abuse?

  • avatar

    This is a good idea and engages an important issue. Unfortunately, beating opioid addiction long term is about as practical and effortless as only dating women based on their Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover photos.

  • avatar

    The hapless legitimate patient victimized by big bad pharma bears the same resemblance to actual opioid addiction as Ryan White did to actual AIDS. All of the junkies that I’ve personally known of, and there are plenty by now, were already worthless druggies to begin with. They didn’t get hurt at work. They didn’t get addicted at the doctors. They got high on the couch for fun.

    • 0 avatar

      And there are those addicts who got hooked the way you’re talking about.

      But there are tons of people out there who got hooked on opioid painkillers after having them prescribed for legitimate medical reasons.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      If only we had had massive elements of the US Military deployed to that country that produces so much of the world’s Poppies for the last couple of decades, maybe we could have done something about it. If only…

  • avatar

    We need clean, efficient and fun euthanasia centers rather than letting people DIY with opoids and booze.

    Start now while the funding may still be pried from the billionaires’ scaly hands.

  • avatar
    daniel g.

    Would not it be better to negotiate better working conditions to minimize the need to resort to drugs against pain? When the symptoms of addiction are manifested, the damage is already done, it is a double job to recover the worker.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Yes, but easier said than done. Car building has become safer over the years, but it is still requires repetitive, cramped, and strenuous activity by humans that robots cannot do (yet).

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This is a useful effort for the union(s), and one which I support.

    I wouldn’t expect an employer to voluntarily step up to help with this problem unless their bottom line was affected.

    • 0 avatar

      @SCE to AUX ..Right, GM Oshawa Flex is one of the most modern , automated assembly plants in the world. It takes 900 people a shift to operate. Robots do have limitations.

      Agreed …the UAW, Ford, GM, FCA are moving in the right direction .Its a win win for all parties concerned, including the taxpayer.

  • avatar

    Let’s hear it for robots. No repetitive stress injuries, or knock-on injuries and addictions from them.

  • avatar
    James Charles

    The robots can catch a virus.

  • avatar

    “already worthless druggies to begin with”

    I really dislike this kind of terminology. These people are not “worthless” to their parents and family and loved ones.

    I’ve seen the wreckage on whole families from overdoses. It’s worth it to try to help, even if it doesn’t work.

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