Iowa dispatchers fed up with understaffed dispatch center

Dispatchers say the consolidated dispatch center is grossly understaffed and that mandatory overtime oftentimes means 16-hour double shifts


Thomas Geyer
Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa

MILAN, Ill. — The 21 dispatchers of QComm911 say they have had enough.

Dispatchers say the consolidated dispatch center, located in the Milan Municipal Building and dispatches for Moline, East Moline, Silvis and Milan, Hampton and Rapids City, is grossly understaffed and that mandatory overtime oftentimes means 16-hour double shifts.

Dispatchers and their supporters, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Council 31, staged a protest Thursday outside the Milan Municipal Building. (Photo/Pixabay)
Dispatchers and their supporters, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Council 31, staged a protest Thursday outside the Milan Municipal Building. (Photo/Pixabay)

It’s not about the money, they said. It’s about time for family and time for rest and time to relieve the stress of the job that is necessary to the safety of the community, firefighters and police.

That is why the dispatchers and their supporters, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Council 31, staged a protest Thursday outside the Milan Municipal Building.

“They are responsible for 12 police and fire departments combined,” said Audie Schmidt, staff representative for AFSCME Council 31.

“We’ve been in negotiations since November,” Schmidt said. “They opened their doors January 1.

“We’ve gotten some things off the table but we have an urgent issue that remains unresolved, and that is we are seeking limitations on mandated overtime,” she said.

“Since their opening, these dispatchers have had to work a lot of overtime,” Schmidt said. “They’ve had to to keep the community and officers safe. “

From Jan. 1 through June 7, the 21 dispatchers have worked 2,415 hours of overtime, she said.

“Contrast that with the City of Moline in 2018 whose dispatchers had 1,058 hours of overtime,” Schmidt said. “QComm911 is on track to triple that number.

“When you’re working that much overtime, it’s an indication that there’s not enough staff,” she said.

“We don’t see any relief coming and we’re getting huge pushback from them at the table so that’s why we’re here,” Schmidt said. “We want people to call out every single one of their elected officials and ask them if this is the norm.”

While the center opened Jan. 1, no jobs were posted until March, she said. “Just last week, we had two new hires come in from those postings in March."

It’s not an easy job to get, Schmidt said. Everyone has to pass a background check, and there is a six-month probationary period and as many half of the people don’t last.

Angie Gillette has been a dispatcher for 10 years, beginning with Rock Island. She started with QComm911 in January.

“The current staffing levels are unsafe,” Gillette said.

A study done by QComm showed it should be staffed with 32 employees, she said. “We work with 21,” Gillette said. “As of June 9, we have answered 55,958 911 admin calls. That’s 2,664 calls per person since Jan. 1.

“The current staffing levels do not meet the safety standard,” Gillette said. “In the 10 years I’ve had this job, I have never felt a concern over safety issues for citizens and first responders until now. All of the citizens should be concerned.”

Sara Parker said she has been a dispatcher for seven years.

“We are responsible for six separate police departments and six separate fire departments,” Parker said. “We have 12 separate radios that need to be listened to. Each voice is somebody’s mom, dad, sister, brother, daughter or son.

Parker’s son, Mason, 7, said that he knows his mom’s job is important and gets the concept of public safety. Dad is a Rock Island firefighter.

“I try not to get mad when she can’t be there for me, when she misses my games, or when I have a bad day or when she’s really tired from working so much,” he said. “I know why she’s doing it.”

But Parker said she is missing “the majority of his life at this point.”

But the safety of the community, of the police officers and firefighters, is at risk in the current situation.

“We should have 19 dispatchers for every 24-hour time frame,” she said. “We’re working with 14.

“We do not have enough staff to keep everyone safe,” Parker said.” Just think if it’s your 911 call put on hold because we don’t have enough staffing.

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©2019 Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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