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One-third fail plant's drug test
date: 20-April-2005
editorial comment editorial comment
In conducting a plantwide screening at Keystone, Hill said, the company is showing their commitment to a drug-free environment. "Losing 40 people can really affect the bottom line," he said. Too bad they don't care about the impact on their shareholders.....

Tribune Staff Writer

GOSHEN -- It did not surprise Maryellen Baker Scelsi when she heard that almost a third of employees at a local RV company recently either quit or were fired from their jobs after testing positive for illegal drugs.

The former Elkhart County public defender said she has represented her share of drug users who were employed in the manufacturing industry, and there is an obvious link.

"It's pretty common," Scelsi said about drug use in industrial work.

One of the reasons, Scelsi said, is that drugs such as methamphetamine aid in speed and productivity, which are large advantages in manufacturing work.

But Ken Julian, human resources manager at Keystone RV Co. Inc. in Goshen, said until last week at his plant, management had not seen a significant link between employees and drug use.

"I would say this is definitely the first time," Julian said.

Keystone RV Co. Inc. tested all 120 of its employees at Plant No. 304 in Goshen last week after receiving a tip from police.

Nearly one-third of them tested positive for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine or methamphetamine during the drug screening, the company said.

About 40 employees ultimately were let go or chose to quit, according to Julian.

Company policies at Keystone RV require that all new employees are pre-screened, and employees are tested for drugs post-accident, Julian said, but this was the first time there has been plantwide testing.

"We've never really had a problem that has come to our attention like this one," Julian said.

The company has an ongoing relationship with Goshen and Elkhart County police, Julian said, which alerted them to possible drug abuse in this instance.

According to a Tribune report last year, the presidents of six recreational vehicle manufacturing companies in Elkhart County denied that methamphetamine or any drug was a problem among their work forces.

Dutchmen Manufacturing in Goshen was the only company of those contacted that acknowledged any suspected methamphetamine use among its employees, in the past.

Officials at Forest River, Damon RV, Jayco Inc., Coachmen Industries, Keystone RV Co. and Recreation by Design said they had never had incidents involving methamphetamine use or dealing among their employees, according to the Tribune report.

Julian said that at the time, that information was true for Keystone.

The company, which makes travel trailers and fifth wheels, is the largest employer in Elkhart County with about 3,000 workers at all of its plants.

Right now, there has not been any plantwide screenings planned for Keystone's other plants, Julian said.

"We don't have a situation at our other locations," Julian said.

Scelsi would like to see more than just termination done to employees who test positive for drugs, she said.

Treatment would be a start, she believes.

"Why can't we be doing that for these people?" she said.

In her experience, Scelsi said, she saw many drug offenders go back to factory jobs after being released from jail and be tempted again by drug use among other employees.

"It's a vicious cycle," she said.

Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis T. Hill said that drug use in Elkhart County does not center around the RV industry.

"I don't want to suggest that the problem is tied into RV manufacturers," he said.

Demand for illegal substances comes from various places and goes across professions, he said.

In conducting a plantwide screening at Keystone, Hill said, the company is showing their commitment to a drug-free environment.

"Losing 40 people can really affect the bottom line," he said.

Hill said Keystone is by far leading the way among local companies in aggressively curbing employee drug abuse.

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