Posted by: Jennifer Foley Posted date: January 7, 2016
— By Jennifer Foley, POJ Editor
Genesee County Central Dispatch has gone through some major changes in recent months – they doubled the number of calls they handle; their Director passed away unexpectedly; and they switched Union representation to the POLC.
“We just took over City of Flint, consolidating the 911 center,” said local Union President Todd Somers. “We’ve taken on quite a big chunk of business – doubled calls from 300,000 to 600,000 a year. Our director just passed away a couple of months ago, so it’s been quite a hard couple months for us.”
“We have 800 hours of overtime every two weeks right now,” Somers said of the 48-member unit. “We’re working 120 hours every two weeks. On average, that’s between 20 to 60 hours of overtime every two weeks.”
Central Dispatch consolidated all the townships and cities in the county. “We’re roughly looking at 30 to 40 different police departments and 40 different fire departments and 12 to 15 different ambulance companies that we service,” Somers said. “We have 12 dispatchers on staff per shift. We’re probably one of the larger dispatch stations in the state of Michigan.”
That would be a lot on anyone’s plate. So when the dispatchers had difficulty getting their Union of 20 plus years to respond to their needs, they started looking around.
“Being with the POAM, we had a lot of times where we couldn’t get a hold of a rep,” Somers said. “I’m the Union President and if we needed someone to come down it was hard to do and basically I had to do it all myself. It was time for a change.”
They heard great stories about the POLC from surrounding departments like Swartz Creek Police, Mount Morris Police, City of Flushing Police and Flushing Township Police. It also helped that they knew POLC Labor Rep. Hal Telling from his former days as a Flushing Police Officer, working with their dispatch department.
“We knew of him and how he works and he’s close and if we ever had an issue he could be here,” Somers said, adding that Telling has a good reputation as a rep. “Whenever they needed their rep, he was right there.”
One POLC story in particular really got their attention. In Flushing Township the police department was disbanded and the community was being policed by Genesee County Sheriff’s Department for an alleged significant cost savings. Instead of giving up on the disbanded department, POLC Labor Rep. Lloyd Whetstone and POLC Labor Attorney Tom Zulch rolled up their sleeves and got to work figuring out how they could get the officers jobs reinstated. They proved the needed funding to run the department was available due to a police millage and there was no cost savings, but rather the Sheriff’s Department coverage would cost the township more money. The Arbitrator’s ruling stated the layoffs were in violation of the collective bargaining agreement because there was no limitation of funds to warrant them.
“They lost their police department and the POLC got their jobs back for them so that was another big deciding factor,” Somers said.
The dispatchers voted unanimously in the spring of 2015 to switch representation to the POLC. “We were in a five-year contract with the POAM and the state only recognizes three-year contracts. So once the three years had passed, we were able to leave,” Somers said.
But the POAM did not give up the unit easily. “I kind of stomped my feet and kicked a little bit too,” Somers said. “What we had to do was once we signed the union card and had a majority then MERC sent ballots and we had to go to the whole group to vote for a change.”
The group’s membership will be growing with plans to hire additional dispatchers and a new Director. “We have a six-month training plan for each person hired here. Even if we hired five people now, we’re still six months away from seeing them on the floor,” Somers said.
Somers said some of the former Flint dispatchers have been hired, but even those with previous dispatch experience will need at least three to four months of training. “The issue is each 911 center does things differently so we have to train them the way we operate,” he said. “There’s so much nowadays you need to know with police, fire, EMS, and liabilities.”
As the dispatchers overcome the obstacles they face, they now have a reliable union to lean on. “Whenever I call Hal, he handles things right away,” Somers said. “It’s much better than what we had before. Today we had a meeting with the Interim Director and Hal had no problem going in with us.”
Genesee County Central Dispatch’s contract expires in October 2016 and the group will soon begin discussions with the POLC about issues they would like addressed in the new agreement.