U-Haul Flunks a Drug Test

Former U-Haul technical writer Russ Korne has no quarrel with drug-testing in the workplace.

"Hey, there's a big problem in this country with drugs," Korne says. "We have to do something. In my case, the worst thing they'd ever get out of me was last night's Genuine Draft. And I don't even smoke cigarettes. But if you're going to give me a random test, it had better be random."

In July, the 39-year-old Korne refused to take a "random" drug test at U-Haul's Tech Center. He says he was ordered to provide a urine sample just a few hours after he declined to say "Good morning" to a supervisor.

The company quickly fired Korne for refusing to take the test. The Arizona Department of Economic Security then disqualified him from unemployment benefits.

"You were discharged for violation of a reasonable, uniformly enforced company rule," the state informed Korne. "Your actions were a disregard of the employer's interests."

D.E. Birchett, an administrative law judge for DES, reversed the earlier decision against Korne immediately after hearing testimony on November 21. Korne--who's now working as an estimator for a Phoenix awning company--won back-benefits totaling $475 against his former employer.

Birchett determined that the U-Haul Tech Center's drug policy was hardly the "reasonable, uniformly enforced company rule" that unnamed DES Deputy 155 had cited in the original decision against Korne.

To the contrary, the judge determined that the Tech Center doesn't have any policy concerning employees who refuse to take the drug test. And Birchett also noted that Korne wasn't asked a second time to provide urine after he refused the test. That also wasn't kosher, the judge said.

Korne says he previously had taken two drug tests for U-Haul during his year-and-a-half tenure--one when he was hired as a temporary worker and a random test this April. He passed both tests, he says.

(A spokeswoman for the notoriously close-mouthed U-Haul says the company "would not have a comment about this incident.")

Korne was ordered to take the test, he says, during the late-morning hours of July 16. Earlier that morning, he declined to say "Good morning" to a supervisor when they passed each other in a hall. This tepid instance of insubordination didn't come out of left field, Korne says.

Several Tech Center employees have lost their jobs in recent months, according to sources inside U-Haul, and morale has plummeted.

"Everybody puts on a happy face," says one Tech Center employee, "but everybody who doesn't kiss up to the bosses wonders if they'll be next out the door."

The company--one of the nation's largest family-run firms--is owned and operated by the fractious, litigious, extremely rich Shoen clan. The family, split into warring camps, currently is battling in a variety of legal venues over numerous issues. The family members are renowned for their shouting matches and fistfights with one another.

Korne says he told another worker after he refused to say hello to the boss that "I'd probably be picked for the piss test today." He was correct.

"They said they had picked my name out of a fishbowl that had all our names in it," Korne says. "I knew that was a bunch of crap. He had picked me because I got him angry. They don't randomly do anything at U-Haul.

"The real point is, if the selection process were legitimate, I would not have ever refused to test. But their history is that they select people who return from vacations and from working trips out-of-town. And they pick people like me who have had disagreements with the honchos. That's why people are so afraid around there."

A "Policy Statement" issued by U-Haul International in May 1987 tried to justify the drug-testing policy: "Our company owes its success to safety-conscious, clear-thinking, innovative and productive family members." "Family members" in U-Haulspeak means "employees." That, however, raises another question, one that U-Haul certainly isn't answering: Have any of the brawling Shoen family members been asked to provide urine for "random" drug tests?

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin