Fla. dispatchers file class action grievance over excessive mandatory overtime

Some dispatchers said their quality of life is dismal because they are routinely called on to work three or four additional hours daily

By Brian Ballou
The Sun Sentinel

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. — Mandatory overtime for emergency dispatchers has become excessive at the county's three 911 communications centers, according to a class action grievance filed by the union representing those workers.

Some dispatchers say their quality of life is dismal because they are routinely called on to work three or four additional hours daily, while others have quit the job after going through up to a year of training. Some have transferred out and or taken pay cuts to work in other areas, said a union representative.

"We told our people in the first year that things were going to get better, and then the second year comes and we said, 'Hang in there,' but it just didn't get any better," said Anthony Marciano, director of the Broward Sheriff's Office unit of the Federation of Public Employees, which represents approximately 400 dispatchers and other communications workers at the county's three emergency call centers in Coconut Creek, Sunrise and Pembroke Pines.

The grievance was submitted to Sheriff Scott Israel, but Marciano said the problem stems from a lack of funding by the county, which contracts with the Broward Sheriff's Office for the operation and maintenance of the system, at approximately $39 million a year.

Marciano said that an additional $2 million is needed to pay for up to 20 more communications employees to adequately staff the centers and eliminate the need to mandate so much overtime.

There have been several incidents at the call centers in the past two years, including one in September 2015 where a call went unanswered because a dispatcher was ordering pizza. Emergency units have been sent to incorrect addresses.

Pembroke Pines commissioners have debated in recent months whether to pull out of the county's system and return to their city-run version, but are awaiting a report from Fitch and Associates, a consultant hired by the county to examine the system and determine what changes might be needed. That report has been delayed, but may be made public within days.

The grievance is also on hold pending the release of the Fitch report, a decision that was made late Wednesday, according to the union and the Broward Sheriff's Office.

Marciano said the excessive overtime has not had any effect on the dispatchers in terms of their ability to do their jobs, which are inherently stressful. But he did say that the loss of workers has eroded some expertise at the call centers.

"When you lose up to 20 employees a year because their home life is so disrupted, yes that affects institutional knowledge, but the new employees who come in here are highly trained and are ready to go from day one," Marciano said.

But still, a single explanatory sentence in the one-page grievance points out that the overtime may indeed have an on-the-job consequence: "BSO has failed to staff the communications operator's classification, causing an unreasonable amount of mandatory overtime which is negatively affecting their professional and personal lives."

Copyright 2016 the Sun Sentinel

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