State calls KGM on the carpet over 520 drinking allegations


The head of the state Department of Transportation says that all future contractors will be clearly made aware that drinking on the job is strictly prohibited following a KOMO 4 investigation that uncovered what appears to be instances of drinking at the headquarters for the 520 Bridge replacement project in Bellevue.

Meantime, a statement from Kiewit-General-Manson, the private contractor involved, states the joint venture is “scheduling training events with counselors to discuss alcohol issues with employees.”

A letter issued to all “Washington state residents” from Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond says that her office first learned that staff at Kiewit-General-Manson were apparently drinking on the job after being questioned about it from KOMO 4 investigators.

“In response, we have taken swift action confirming our policy with our contractors to help prevent a situation like this from happening again,” Hammond wrote in her public letter.

“Please know that alcohol or drug use is not acceptable within WSDOT projects and workplaces,” she added. “This issue is receiving attention at all levels to ensure that our policies are upheld.”

Hammond said she and her staff spent Monday and Tuesday contacting all of the contractors involved in the floating bridge project to affirm that they comply with the state agency’s drug- and alcohol-free workplace policies. On Tuesday, Hammond also sent out an e-mail to all state DOT employees warning them about the impending KOMO 4 broadcast and reiterating the agency’s policy.

The KOMO 4 report broadcast Tuesday evening showed video and photos of numerous workers holding beer bottles and drinking at their desks, a refrigerator full of beer as well as workers walking into the office with half-cases of beer last Friday afternoon.

“WSDOT employees also work in this building, and at this time, we believe that none of them were involved,” Hammond said.

No allegations of drinking on the job have been made at the Aberdeen pontoon construction site.

But, Wednesday night, KOMO 4 aired another broadcast from a former employee for Kiewit who worked at the contractor’s Kenmore facility, which is building the anchors for the pontoon construction project. The employee told KOMO 4 that drinking was common place at that job site.

All of the allegations prompted Gov. Chris Gregoire to release a statement Wednesday night: “Drinking on the job is unacceptable and WSDOT has long-held and clear policies that prohibit drugs and alcohol in the workplace. These policies have been reiterated to the private sector contractor Kiewit-General-Manson construction and their employees. We have also taken swift action to confirm these policies with our private sector contractors so that they are clear about the state’s expectations.”

Kiewit-General-Manson holds the $586 million contract to put the bridge together and oversee transportation of the pontoons from Aberdeen to Lake Washington. A similar company known as Kiewit-General holds the $367 million contract in Aberdeen to actually build the pontoons.

Hammond said that a full investigation is ongoing. Kiewit said in a company statement that it is also launching an internal investigation, noting that “safety is and always will be paramount on all of our projects.” The state Department of Labor & Industries may also look into the issue, according to spokesman Hector Castro.

On Wednesday, Hammond said all future contract provisions with all construction contractors and design consultants will be referred to a specific state code about employer responsibilities and creating a safe work place.

“We will point out to contractors that, from here on, they will see these provisions on WSDOT’s Ad and Award website,” Hammond said. “We will add instructions to the WSDOT Construction Manual outlining the importance of our project engineers explaining this requirement during preconstruction conferences.”

On Monday, 520 head Julie Meredith with the state Department of Transportation directed Tom Skoro, the vice president for Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. in Vancouver, to abide by the state agency’s drug and alcohol free workplace policy. Her letter says she expects to “receive confirmation about what steps Kiewit-General-Manson will take with its employees to confirm the WSDOT policy.”

“Similarly, I will ask Dave Ziegler, the WSDOT Principal Engineer at the Pontoon Construction Project to review the WSDOT policy with Phil Wallace, Kiewit-General’s Pontoon Project Director in Aberdeen, to ensure the Aberdeen office operates under this same policy direction,” Meredith writes.

“WSDOT knows that KGM is committed to safety on its job sites and has an excellent safety record,” Meredith writes. “We believe that implementing a joint policy regarding a drug and alcohol free workplace in these two project offices will continue the standard that KGM already had in place for its construction sites and with its construction employees.”

Tom Janssen, Kiewit spokesman said, “Safety is and always will be paramount on all of our projects. As a result, consumption of alcohol during employees’ working hours is a violation of company policy. We take this issue extremely seriously, and immediately initiated a full investigation into this matter. During this investigation, we have asked for employees’ full cooperation, and have re-emphasized our policy about alcohol in the workplace. We are also scheduling training events with counselors to discuss alcohol issues with employees,” said Janssen. “Our investigation is ongoing at this time. Once the investigation is complete, appropriate actions will be taken.”

In a letter to the state Department of Transportation dated Monday, Skoro said the company “is equally committed to alcohol-free worksites.”

“I expect that all of our offices and projects are observing our policies and the law accordingly,” Skoro wrote in an additional memo sent to all Kiewit Bridge and Marine staff, also encouraging company officials to report violations of the corporate drug and alcohol policy.

Ziegler says that he has reviewed the drug and alcohol policies with the contractor at the Aberdeen site and feels confident that there are no issues at the Aberdeen office.

“There is a no-alcohol policy on the project,” Ziegler said. “And being a state agency we have a drug and alcohol policy that we’re required to adhere to and I know my staff is following those policies.”

Ziegler says he’s worked with Wallace for about five years now and feels confident that he enforces the same rules as well.

Steven Friederich, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3927, or by email at sfriederich@thedailyworld.com