In an emergency 911 dispatchers are a lifeline between victims and emergency responders. They are the first voice you hear when you call for help.
In York County Dispatchers, say they are being overworked and that could lead to a safety risk for residents. “Those hours are leading to trouble with alertness, or could lead to trouble with alertness,” said Tara Wilson, a representative with AFSCME, who represents the York County dispatchers. “The 911 operators are working very long hours, some upwards of 80 hours a week, and working many days in a row. So 12 or more is not something that is unusual. We are trying to be proactive about this instead of waiting for something to happen.”
York County Commissioner Chris Reilly said safety for residents has never been a concern. “That’s absolutely false. It’s irresponsible to make a charge like that, and I would challenge the union for evidence the working conditions in 911 have endangered any of our residents over the years.”
“I think the perception is there that there are vacant seats in the call center. There are not. Every shift is fully staffed, every seat is occupied, and there is a full complement of call takes at any time in the 911 center,” said Commissioner Reilly.
The county currently has 71 dispatchers but has allotted to have 85. Wilson said even at full capacity that isn’t enough to cover the current schedule. She is asking to have more positions to be created. She is also asking for dispatchers overtime to be cut down, their pay increased, and a schedule with guaranteed days off. “The contract says they have to sign up for 12 hours of overtime. Each week 12 hours of overtime is available, not only that 12 hours, but more. The seats need to be filled there. So if there is no one there you have to stay to fill those seats,” said Wilson.
Commissioner Reilly said the county is currently in contract negotiations with AFSCME. “The contract they are currently working under is one that was signed and ratified by members of AFSCME. They have been working under that contract for almost three years. Employees that were here or were hired were fully aware of what it would take to work in the York county 911 center. So to now raise these issues I think is kind of disingenuous.”
Wilson said the rigorous training and responsibilities of the job results in a high turnover of personnel. One consequence of the turnover, Wilson said, is exorbitant amounts of overtime. “They’re constantly hiring people. The problem is they can’t keep people. It’s a high stress job. So it’s difficult to keep people. I agree with them it’s rigorous training, but it’s tough to keep people in those seats when they are working these amount of hours.”
Commissioner Reilly said they are always trying to fill the positions. “Rigorous training and the job contributes to the deficit of employees. We are looking at changing some of the training stipulations to make the jobs more accessible. We are constantly recruiting. Another point that needs to be made the training is very rigorous. Folks that are hired don’t take a call for three months. And a lot of people don’t make it through the process.”
The union contract expires at the end of the year. A negotiating session is scheduled in two weeks. Wilson said they have a proposed schedule ready for the meeting.