Union Calls on City to Increase Pay for Emergency Communications Specialists

SEIU FPSUEach year, the second full week of April is dedicated to the men and women who serve as public safety telecommunicators. As protests and rallies for raising the minimum wage for fast food workers took place earlier this week, here in Orlando, the city employees union has been calling on Mayor Buddy Dyer and the City to accept a request for pay grade reclassification and increased wages for these important public safety workers, as called for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Emergency Communications Specialists (ECS) are the dedicated workers who answer when 911 is called. Our lives, and the lives of local officers, are literally in their hands. It is not an easy job. In just one shift, local ECS may prevent a suicide, help find a lost child, instruct someone in CPR, calm an officer or a frantic citizen when they ask for the impossible, re-unite a family with a lost dog, and recover a stolen vehicle.

Police officers also add that the ECS have to get to know the normal sound of an officer’s voice, in order to identify if there is distress or a situation that the officer cannot verbalize. The officers’ lives are also in the hands of these public safety telecommunicators.

But there is an ongoing struggle for the City in terms of recruitment and retention. The current push to encourage City Hall to act stems from a request made on February 28, 2015 asking for a pay reclassification as called for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Back in 2004, these employees joined along with other City of Orlando employees to organize with SEIU – Florida Public Services Union (FPSU) in order to have a greater voice for their profession.

FPSU and others around the City took advantage of the special recognition week to highlight the importance of these public servants and to bring attention to the demanding, stressful, and extremely skilled nature of their work. The union is still waiting for the City of Orlando to seriously consider the recently submitted request for a pay grade reclassification to help resolve extreme recruitment and retention problems and the resulting understaffing and many hours of mandatory overtime.

Naturally, the standards are high for recruitment, testing, training and passing state certification for ECS. For example, recently the City of Orlando had a difficult time just filling 60 testing slots with applicants – with only 14 individuals passing the first test according to union officials.

But these invaluable city workers are not getting the support and recognition they deserve from the City of Orlando, and the workers are not receiving competitive pay which could be hurting recruitment and retention efforts. In fact, ECS in St. Petersburg start out making about $5/hour more than those same workers in Orlando. Granting the employees’ request will make Orlando more competitive compared to nearby Communications Centers.

Raising the pay grade will also save some of the funding that is currently going to pay for mandatory overtime and for constant recruitment and training due to high turnover rates.

National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week was first proclaimed by Congress in 1991, noting that “these individuals are responsible for responding to the telephone calls of the general public for police, fire, and emergency medical assistance and for dispatching said assistance to help save the lives and property of our citizens and that they daily serve the public in countless ways without due recognition by the beneficiaries of their services.”

There is no better week for Mayor Dyer and City Hall to act on behalf of our invaluable city employees. It’s a win-win-win for the employees, the City, and the public.

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