LIRR Electricians Union Threatens Work Stoppage Over Employee Suspension

lirr electricians
The LIRR Hillside Maintenance Facility, where North Babylon resident Ronald Dolginko worked before being placed on a six-month suspension. (Courtesy Google Maps)

Ronald Dolginko, a long time electrician for the Long Island Rail Road, was suspended without pay for six months in December 2021 for what he claims was a false-positive drug test for marijuana. In response, IBEW Local 589, the union representing LIRR’s electricians, has threatened a work stoppage after several attempts to reverse the penalty.

The North Babylon resident underwent a double bypass open heart surgery on Aug. 4, 2021. Upon his return to work, he went for a return-to-duty physical and was given a drug and alcohol test, which IBEW Local 589 claims was unauthorized. The test turned up positive for marijuana, and Dolginko was placed on an unpaid suspension for six months starting Dec. 17, 2021.

“I thought heart surgery was bad, and then I got hit with this nonsense,” he said. “It’s pretty brutal. I hope to get this resolved sooner rather than later so this doesn’t happen to any other employees.”

Knowing he had not used any drugs, Dolginko gave another urine sample at LabCorps, which he said came back negative, yet LIRR would not reverse the decision. IBEW Local 589 is now involved and has tried bringing the matter to top-ranking LIRR officials, to no avail.

“If we can’t get some kind of resolution, we will do anything up to and including a work stoppage,” said Ricardo Sanchez, chairman of IBEW Local 589. “But we’re hoping that it won’t come to that.”

LIRR officials have declined to comment on Dolginko’s case, but commented on the potential of a work stoppage.

“Any discussion of an illegal work stoppage is irresponsible, inflammatory, and a disservice to Long Islanders who rely on the LIRR to get to jobs, doctors and wherever else they need to go,” said Tim Minton, a LIRR spokesperson. “Should such a disruptive walkout occur in violation of the law, the MTA would take the strongest measures possible to end the disruption and minimize any impact on riders.”

For months, Sanchez has been trying to get Dolginko’s issue resolved. He had spoken with ex-LIRR President Phil Eng about the situation before he retired in February, he said. Most recently, on March 9, Sanchez said he spoke with the LIRR vice president and requested to meet with the current president, Catherine Rinaldi, but has not heard back.

Meanwhile, Dolginko, who for 25 years was working the midnight shift at the LIRR’s Hillside Maintenance Facility in Queens, is struggling to make ends meet as he suffers the loss of income. 

“It’s difficult. This is my livelihood to support my family,” Dolginko said. “My wife and I are doing the best we can but it’s rough. It takes a lot out of a person, and I feel my reputation has been ruined. 

“Bills keep coming but my pay ain’t. And the bills keep getting higher and higher with the price of gas and food,” he added. “I feel like I’m just a number and all my years of service [to LIRR] didn’t mean anything.”

According to Sanchez, LIRR’s policy is a six months suspension for workers who test positive for drugs, and there is not an established process to dispute a false positive or seek help if the employee has a drug problem. This includes marijuana, and the policies were not reassessed after it became legal in April 2021, he said. However, he noted that Metro-North employees are able to take their cases to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to work out a resolution, a policy he has been trying to have implemented for LIRR employees, as well.

“This is a classic example of a false-positive,” Sanchez said. “Even if he did [do the drug], he was not impaired while on duty. Now he’s been out three months and he’s out another three without pay. And he’s had an immaculate record for 25 years.”

LIRR officials declined to provide information on the agency’s drug testing policies.

Sign up for Long Island Press’ email newsletters here. Sign up for home delivery of Long Island Press here. Sign up for discounts by becoming a Long Island Press community partner here.