Page 7 - Work Force February 2016
P. 7

Nassau County 911 in its own state
of emergency
 MINEOLA — Dispatchers working for Nassau County 911 are used to helping those in distress, but these days, they’re the ones that can use help.
Since the budget crisis of 2010, Nassau County officials have been steadily decreasing dispatcher staffing to try to save money. Their preoccupation with cutting corners is what has led to a public safety crisis.
“Recently, there was a call about a bank robbery. The caller was on hold for four minutes. That is unacceptable,” said Jerry Laricchiuta, Nassau County Local president. “Every second that caller was on hold, people’s lives were in danger.”
“A lot can happen in four minutes,” Laricchiuta said.
Like an eternity
Two minutes is also a long time, especially when there’s a home invasion. This was the case when
a woman called 911 after being alerted that her alarm had been tripped. She left work and went home to find a man hiding in her bedroom. Who knows what could have happened to her during the two minutes she was on hold?
Probably the most heartbreaking instance is the one involving the parents that called 911 when their 18-month-old son was having a seizure. They were also put on hold. The parents hung up, ran to a neighbor and called the fire department and they took the couple’s son to the hospital where he received care.
Luckily, none of these callers were harmed, but it is still a dangerous situation for the county
to wait for a tragedy to take action on staffing issues.
Even if callers do get a dispatcher right away, there’s no telling if the right procedures will be carried out, due to cutbacks that limit training.
“The county disbanded
the training office that was in place for over 20 years,” said Susan Chodkowski, the local’s Communications Bureau Unit representative. “There used to be a syllabus and a game plan on how to properly train dispatchers. Now, they’re being trained by people who don’t specialize in training or dispatching.”
Bare bones staffing
At full staff, there should be 200 dispatchers, but currently there are only 141 dispatchers; not enough people to fill pre-approved time off or scheduled breaks.
On a daily basis, there should be 34 people on duty. That number has gone down to 22. Due to the way the schedule works, from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m., there can be as few as three scheduled call takers working a shift. That’s far too few dispatchers for a county of more than 1.3 million residents (as of 2013) that can generate more than 2,500 calls per day.
As a result, staff hours are being extended without prior notice. It’s not uncommon for people to work 12 to 16 hour days.
The additional work is having a physical effect on CSEA members. More people are reaching out to the county’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to help them handle the incredible amount of stress they’re under.
Gary Volpe, Susan Chodkowski and Jerry Laricchiuta discuss how to best remedy the 911 dispatcher shortage.
“Studies have been done
that compare the stress levels
of 911 dispatchers to air traffic controllers,” said Gary Volpe, the local’s Communications Bureau Unit president. “We have to restore proper training and staffing levels for the sake of the health of our members and the safety of the public.”
CSEA activists aren’t taking these workplace abuses lying down. Ideally, they’d like to settle the issue internally through dialogue between themselves and the county. If that’s not possible,
they’ve already asked for a hearing in the legislature.
The general public has also done its part in aiding CSEA in our efforts to stand up for workers’ rights.
“The public was so upset about being put on hold for long periods of time that they went to the press,” said Volpe. “Now the county can’t dismiss us by saying that it’s just the union complaining.”
— Wendi Bowie
 “My union...”
“My union is fighting for a strong future for working people. I’m a young
worker and have gotten involved in Next Wave because I want to be involved and fight to keep everything we have fought so hard for. If we don’t step up and fight, people are going to try to take away our rights as middle class workers. If you don’t get involved”, you don’t have a voice, so I’m stepping up.
— Jannelly Folch, shop steward and Next Wave activist, Rockland Psychiatric Center Local
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    February 2016
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