Sunday, November 29, 2015

Labor secretary backs up Corbet on drug test failures

As Gov. Corbett, deflected criticism made his first public comments since his controversial radio comments on workplace drug testing failures, we caught up with Labor Secretary Julia Hearthway who backs up her boss.

Labor secretary backs up Corbet on drug test failures


Note to readers: use promo code R555Q to access Inquirer story on Corbett's defense of drug testing remarks.

As Gov. Corbett, made his first public comments since his controversial radio interview on drug testing in the workplace Monday, we caught up with Labor Secretary Julia Hearthway who backs up her boss.

Hearthway said in her experience traveling the state talking to business leaders, she has found drug use among job applicants to be a perennial issue.

"It's a conversation that comes up routinely in certain sectors," said Hearthway, citing energy manufacturing, health care and construction as the job fields with zero tolerance policies on drug use in the workplace.

She said some employers tell her candidates don't even make it to the drug test, withdrawing applications when told that drug tests are mandatory.

Last year, speaking to the business group in southwestern Pennsylvania's Westmoreland/Fayette counties. Heathway said she asked which is the bigger problem, lack of skills or drugs?

"It was a toss up," she recalled.

Earlier this week Democrats, including several who are seeking Corbett's job  in 2014, seized on his statement that employers can't find candidates that could pass a drug test. They said the governor was insensitive and offended those unable to find jobs in an economy that has not yet fully rebounded from the recession.

My colleague Alfred Lubrano reported in his piece for the Inquirer today that experts say the unemployment problem complex, driven by a multitude of factors chief among them a glut of workers. But they also also said a lack of skills and. yes,drug addiction were issues, albeit a  much smaller one.

Corbett today lashed out at partisan critics in a speech to business leaders in Malvern, saying Democrats had twisted his remarks which referenced some students at a natural gas industry training center, not the unemployed as a whole.

"You know, some Democrats out there want to be governor, and what they did was make something up out of whole cloth," siad Corbett.

Hearthway said she hoped there could be what she called "an open discussion" on the substance abuse issue to "see where the problems are." She said "candid talk should be welcomed" and not drowned out by "rhetoric to shut it down."

Democrats, however, launched a fresh attack today, resurrecting the steep cuts to county human services funding Gov. Corbett proposed in the current fiscal year's budget. These are the agencies that provide drug and alcohol counseling to substance abusers. Most of those cuts were later restored by the legislature.

"Governor Corbett insulted Pennsylvanians with his outrageous comments claiming our unemployment problem is due to drug use as opposed to his failed record. The Governor's comments are even more shocking when you look at his record," said Mark Eisenstein, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. "Governor Corbett has consistently cut funding for important services such as job training and substance abuse assistance. Governor Corbett should take responsibility for his disastrous economic record; not blame the citizens of the Commonwealth."

After my story about the governor's comments ran Wednesday, readers relayed their stories of job seeking frustration. One man said he could pass any drug test on the planet - including regular prescriptions - and he still can't find a job. A Philadelphia area mother left me a message saying her son routinely fails drug tests because he suffers from epilepsy. Yet another asked if drug testing was mandatory for state workers. (According to Hearthway, the answer is, "as a rule, no.")

Soon 105 of Heathway's 5,362 labor department workers will be among the roughly 500,000 unemployed statewide. The agency must furlough the workers because of federal funding cuts, she said.

Hearthway explained none of them work in the unemployment compensation centers that several months ago were plagued with customer service problems that delayed checks for those seeking benefits.

Hearthway said the centers are operating smoothly and she has heard no complaints recently about problems getting information or about a check being held up.





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Commonwealth Confidential gives you regularly updated coverage of the state legislature, the governor and the workings of the state bureaucracy. It is written by Angela Couloumbis in the Inquirer's Harrisburg bureau, based in the statehouse, and by the newspaper's far-flung campaign reporters.

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