Gamble: With crack cocaine, you saw different jail sentences. The perception of crack cocaine was that it was a minority drug problem, and I never agreed with that because from my world, I saw folks crossing all sorts of racial genres and sexes affected by crack cocaine. The perception was it was a drug being used by a lower-class folk, and the response was more jail time.
With the cocaine and the opioid problems, you saw more of a treatment-based response because the users were of a higher socioeconomic class of folk, using raw cocaine. Now with the opioid problem, you have a more upper class of white families being affected by opioid abuse. Now, once again, you see the response of more treatment and money being thrown into it. Substance abuse affects our entire country. I don't care if you're white, black, green or yellow. You cannot find a family in this country that has not suffered the ills of substance abuse.
Dirksen: It affects everybody. Young people, older people, working people, retired people, children, and they're all concerns of ours and our employees. We've absolutely designed and targeted the work we've done with the Campaign of Hope to be broad and to reach all of those audiences. Obviously, our primary focus is talking to our employees but doing it in a way where they have information — in many cases, materials — that they can bring home to their family and friends and loved ones that's just going to help us expand our reach. The more people we can reach, the better for us and the better for them.
Milloy: Viewing the drug crisis in the workplace as something that came into the workplace from outside, from bad people getting into the plants — you're never going to solve things that way. It's in the plant because of the culture of the plant, because of the working demand of the plant, because of the health benefits and the physical injuries. It's going to have to be a policy anda set of practices that understand drug use is woven into the fabric of working life, not something that is just a few bad apples and if you get rid of them, you're going to solve the problem. And we've seen that with the war on drugs writ large. It doesn't work like that in any facet of American life.
How did the Campaign of Hope come to be, and why was it found necessary?
Gamble: We've been working with the substance abuse issue amongst our members for decades. Over the years, the amount of money we've been able to budget for it has increased. The problem has increased, and the type of drugs have changed, and the treatment methodology has also changed. With heroin, it's a physical treatment, and then with cocaine and crack cocaine, it was a combination of physical and mental treatment. With contemporary times, with the introduction of the drug fentanyl, it's become a rapidly deadly habit not only for our members in the workplace, but society.
I don't think the federal government was prepared to handle the legal issue. When you talk about drug eradication, this was a fight that has to go a lot further than the corporate language we can create. We have to have full support of the federal government.
Dirksen: As the problem grew, it became apparent to us. In terms of some of the recent, very specific actions we've taken, the genesis of that was about two years ago through discussion with the UAW. The UAW actually came to us and said, "Hey, we're concerned about this." And, of course, we were concerned about it as well, and we both recognized it as something that we could work on together. We felt a lot of the missing link has been in the education component. I think that the amount of dialogue and education and knowledge in this area did not match the size and scale of the epidemic. And I think we've stepped into that void to try to fill that so that people do understand what's happening and why and what to do about it.
How is the UAW uniquely positioned to address this problem?
Milloy: Labor unions have always traditionally been on the side of trying to expand what is possible for the greatest number. They have the credibility on those kinds of issues because they've been pushing for things like universal health care in America for decades, literally almost 100 years. The UAW can look at this as an opportunity to build some solidarity and have its membership and its leadership be there for each other. There is a belief that one of the major things that distinguished the disease of alcoholism or drug addiction from, say, cancer or multiple sclerosis was there is a denial about the disease of addiction that one had to break through and shatter in the user for them to get help. There is a really strong belief in the literature that the job was the lever by which you did that, that people would give up a lot of other things, but not their work.
Gamble: We fight very hard for our members in the workplace, but we also fight for the communities in which they live because when they leave the workplace and they go home, they are subject to all the ills and the positives in society that the next day could affect them coming to work. We expect, if our programs work, that nonunion corporations will take a look at what we do and try to adopt some of those things and help their workers as well. I don't have a problem with that. The more folks that get on board with this struggle, the better off this country will be.
Dirksen: We have a partnership with the UAW, and it's not driven just by what we bargained in our contract. All this work we've done has been between contracts. We didn't have to collectively bargain it and write it down; we just recognized it together and got to work on it. And we've got a lot of energized people — this wasn't just leadership. This was a lot of grassroots people who wanted to work on this. So when people like Rory said, "I want to work on this," there was a small army there ready to go. And I think that's one of the keys to our success.