Pay increases proposed for Luzerne County 911 union workers

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | April 11th, 2016 5:34 pm

Luzerne County administrators want to use pay increases to address concerns about turnover, morale and recruitment at the county 911 center.

A proposed union contract amendment to boost the starting salary of 911 telecommunicators from $25,500 to $32,000 is on Tuesday’s county council agenda.

If the amendment passes:

• The compensation for all current and new telecommunicators would be raised to at least $32,000.

• Current telecommunicators making more than $32,000 would receive a $2,500 raise.

• Those with a least three years of experience would be eligible to become telecommunicator specialists, which comes with an additional $2,500 raise. The center will allow up to 33 specialists. To obtain the reclassification, telecommunicators must pass a written test and meet other quality assurance standards.

• All telecommunicators with at least one year of experience will be eligible to enroll in a communications training officer course that will allow them to earn additional $20 to $40 stipends per shift training new employees.

The telecommunicators are part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) residual union.

Staffing concerns rose to the forefront during criticism over the center’s dispatching of emergency crews to the wrong location in a May 2014 fatal blaze.

The union issued a report that July referencing a problem with turnover and the departure of experienced telecommunicators, saying the “overall quality of the dispatchers is at an all-time low.”

An October 2014 independent study requested by the administration highlighted the center’s 19-percent turnover rate, excessive mandatory overtime and challenges filling vacancies.

Last April, the council’s 911 inquiry committee recommended the center focus on resources needed for improvement.

County 911 Executive Director Fred Rosencrans said Monday the center regularly loses employees who leave for better-paying dispatching positions in other counties or the state.

The county’s 2016 budget allows 65 telecommunicators, and the center currently has 14 vacancies, he said.

Without the amendment, telecommunicators who have worked at the county 911 center for 10 years make less than state police communications dispatchers who start at $37,000, Rosencrans said.

At least one neighboring county starts 911 telecommunicators at $32,000.

“I’m basically training someone several months to leave and go to another county to make more. I’m hoping this quells that,” he said.

Rosencrans said he has enough funding in his 2016 budget to cover the raises and training without an increase from the county’s general fund operating budget, which kicks in $1.1 million toward 911 expenses this year.

The lion’s share of the center’s revenue — $6.4 million — is from a state fee on land and wireless phone lines, he said.

The telecommunicators will receive more training and be held to a “higher standard” if the changes pass, he said. The center fields about 450,000 emergency and administrative calls annually, he said.

“I’m hoping and confident this will help us recruit quality candidates and allow us to maintain that veteran staff that helped me through this storm that we were experiencing,” he said.

The council is scheduled to vote on the amendment at its Tuesday meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. in the council meeting room at the courthouse in Wilkes-Barre.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.