Even within corporate managerial circles, drug-testing dogma has been called into question. In 1996, after reviewing data compiled since 1987, the American Management Association announced that “No finding of AMA’s nine-year survey efforts can confirm with statistical certainty that testing deters drug use.” Two years later, a survey of 63 high-tech firms confirmed the AMA’s results, revealing that not only had testing failed to improve worker productivity, but that “Surprisingly, companies adopting drug-testing programs are found to exhibit lower levels of productivity than their counterparts that do not,” by as much as 20 percent.
At some point in the late 1990s, the corporate world began listening, but only selectively. The AMA’s most recent data shows that while 74 percent of all companies tested in 1997, 67 percent were testing by 2001. Broken down a bit further, the results get more interesting. Drug testing in the highly paid financial-services sector dropped by more than half, from 47 percent in 1997 to 23 percent this year. Testing in other white-collar fields, in what the AMA terms the “business and professional sector,” dropped by more than 20 percent. Meanwhile, manufacturing, the most highly tested category four years ago, retained that status; testing dropped slightly, from 86 percent to 81 percent. Only in the lowest-paid, least-skilled category — wholesale and retail employees — did drug-testing rates jump, from 61 percent to 65 percent. In short: White-collar workers are being tested less and less, while it’s becoming increasingly likely that waitresses and salesclerks will have to produce a cup of urine on demand.
So Wall Street brokers can rest assured that nothing will get between their bladders and the executive toilets, but stock boys at Vons have to hand over a sample with their job application before performing sensitive tasks like pricing potato chips. “It really doesn’t make sense,” observes Graham Boyd of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project. The rift has been especially deep in the tech world, where, the Los Angeles Times reported last fall, two-tier testing programs sometimes exist within one firm. Intuit, for example, screens the workers at its telephone-help center in Nevada for drugs, but not those at its corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley. Similarly, Amazon.com tests its employees at some of its outlying distribution centers, but not at its Seattle home office.
Such disparities, as is so often the case, have largely been determined by the market. At the high end, skilled white-collar workers were enough in demand in the late ’90s that companies feared losing potential employees to other employers who did not drug-test. At the low end, though, the boom years supplied a steady pool of easily replaceable service workers. If they didn’t want to take a drug test at Wal-Mart, there was nowhere else to go — Kmart drug-tests too. Class stereotypes equating poverty with drug abuse (like those behind Michigan’s attempt to make a clean drug test result a precondition to receiving welfare benefits) surely also played a role. Regardless of the causes, though, the result is the same: another ritual of humiliation for the working poor, a clear sign from management that your body, like your time, is not your own.