September 24, 2019

Quad Cities 911 dispatchers stand strong

Four Rock Island County governing bodies—Moline, East Moline, Silvis and Milan—consolidated their 911 operation to comply with an Illinois state mandate to reduce the number of county call centers.

Members of AFSCME Locals 1132 and 1234 were brought under one roof. They voted to join together in Local 1234 and negotiated their first contract with their new employer, QComm 911.

It wasn’t easy.

“The process was really hard,” said 911 dispatcher and bargaining team member Angie Gillette. “We were trying to get a good wage and benefit plan, but we had also worked 3,000 hours of overtime since January 1st. It wasn’t safe and we had to make a stand.”

The dispatchers took their case to the streets and picketed their employer about the unsafe conditions created by excessive mandatory overtime.

“It was alarming,” Gillette said. “I’ve been a dispatcher for 10 years and I’ve never been concerned about police, fire fighter and public safety until now. I felt something was going to fall through the cracks and that didn’t need to happen.”

The local ultimately took a strike authorization vote and 100 percent of the membership voted yes. The labor board denied the employees’ right to strike because the dispatchers are essential public safety workers, but the move sent a clear message to the public and their employer.

The vote pushed the employer back to the table and after just a few more sessions the two sides hammered out a deal.

The four different dispatch operations each had their own wage scale and health insurance, with total compensation varying. Gillette said the new employer was trying to go with the lowest option for each, but the union members would not stand for it.

“They stood up for themselves,” said AFSCME Council 31 Staff Representative Audie Schmidt who led negotiations with bargaining team members Gillette, Margo Sparbel, Scott Ryckeghem, Colleen Cusack, Kami Johnson, Stacy Houzenga and Sara Parker. “They are an incredible group.”

The bargaining team secured the highest wage floor of the four scales and the best insurance plan. And most importantly the union members won a safe overtime policy.

Now the employer cannot mandate more than 12 hours consecutively. Employees can work a 16-hour shift voluntarily, but not on a mandation. QComm 911 has also hired additional dispatchers to ensure adequate staffing levels for the call volume.

“It was amazing,” Gillette said. “I don’t think we would have been able to get this far or get this much without our union. Having a union backing us made us a lot stronger.”

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