FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PRESS CONTACT: Rebecca Band, firstname.lastname@example.org, 510.326.0897
IBEW 1245 represents more than 200 workers at the City of Vallejo, including Communications Operators (a.k.a. Dispatchers), Code Enforcement Officers, Crime Analysts, Police Records Clerks, and Police Assistants, as well as employees in the Public Works, Water and Housing departments. Below, IBEW 1245 Senior Business Representative JV Macor addresses statements from recent press releases that have dealt with our Communications members in Police/Fire Dispatch, including one released on May 25 by the Vallejo Police Officers Association (VPOA) and a subsequent press release that appeared on May 27 by the City of Vallejo Police Department’s Public Information Officer.
IBEW 1245 began engaging with the City of Vallejo in early 2021 regarding the diminishing staffing levels among Vallejo Police Department Communications Dispatchers and other classifications. We expressed our growing concern over the safety of our members and the public, and we specifically asked whether Human Resources and the Police Department were looking to address recruitment and retention issues for these essential classifications. We were simply told, “No.”
By February of 2022, dispatch staffing had reached critically low levels, as skilled workers left Vallejo for other agencies. New hires and trainees, under the continual stress of one of the busiest communications centers in the Bay Area per capita, were leaving at the fastest rate we’ve seen since we started representing these workers. The result is that, more often than not, the Communications department has only two Operators working per shift. At this critical point, we alerted City Administration that Local 1245 was extremely concerned about the health and safety of its members in Communications.
A severely understaffed Communication center, responding to a high volume of both Fire and Police 911 Emergency calls, while simultaneously conducting extremely complex radio traffic with officers in the field who depend on our members, puts all parties at risk. Under these circumstances, our Communications Operators are unduly exposed to serious mental and physical health concerns. Imagine having to choose between taking a 911 call, responding to an officer on the radio, or using the restroom. Our members, who typically work 12 or 16-hour shifts, are being put in this untenable situation far too often.
Local 1245 would like to present some key facts for the press and public to understand:
- The Department’s 2015 Communications Policy A-17 clearly states a minimum staffing level of three Operators per shift, and four for critical shifts and days, along with a shift Supervisor (also a 1245-represented job classification).
- Years ago, the department was budgeted for 28 communications Operators, then through the reality of not being competitive, reduced the budgeted number to 24. When we met with the City in February of 2022, they were down to 20 budgeted, 16 Communications Operator I and II, and four Communication Supervisors. But the reality on the Comm deck was there were only eight Operators remaining available.
- As of this writing, Local 1245 understands that there are currently six viable Communication Operators who can attend to a console. Even if new hires were to fill the doorways, it would be irresponsible to consider any new hires (who are not fully trained) to assume the duty, as it takes up to two years of training (under the tutelage of a seasoned Operator with journey level skills) to be able to handle the day-to-day duties on a console by themselves. These six bargaining unit employees carry the heavy task of answering 911 calls, keeping officers and citizens alive in the field — all while trying to manage their own health and lives.
In an attempt to remedy this situation as expeditiously as possible, IBEW 1245 decided to hold off on filing a formal complaint against the City with CalOSHA for creating and not addressing an unsafe workplace. But IBEW 1245 and VPOA agree that this matter is a serious risk to the community. Specifically, we can vouch for the accuracy of the following statements, excerpted from the VPOA press release:
“Dispatchers field every 911 call and dispatch police, fire, and medical from this center. On average, Vallejo’s dispatchers handle 400-500 calls per day and now routinely work with only two people in the dispatch center, not allowing for breaks or even basic trips to the bathroom.”
“Unfortunately, in the last two years there has been a mass exodus from the center, with staff leaving to work at other agencies in the region.”
“This critical staffing crisis, that significantly affects both the Vallejo Police and Fire Departments, has brought the department to be within one staffed dispatcher of not being able to provide 24-hour 911 emergency services to the community.”
“It is believed that the administration of the Vallejo Police Department is currently considering a plan to relinquish 911 calls as well as police and fire dispatch services to another entity during nighttime hours.”
“The Department is set to lose another dispatcher to a nearby agency within the next few weeks, which will force the City to take this drastic action of potentially outsourcing dispatch services for the City of Vallejo or making dispatchers work mandatory 12-16 hour workdays.”
“Your safety and the safety of your police officers depends on your dispatchers.”
“Outsourcing these services will cause a disruption in emergency response from police, fire, and medical. Equally as bad, forcing operators to work 16 hour days is unsustainable.”
The reality is other agencies may not even be willing or able to take on this additional workload. Local 1245 would present that “unsustainability” in this arena means employees either leave, as we have seen happen in record numbers lately, or suffer undue and entirely preventable negative health outcomes.
Local 1245 would also like to address what was presented in the Vallejo Police Dept Public Information Officers official Press Release dated May 27, 2022:
“ … the VPOA’s news release was filled with mistruths. It suggested that VPD would close nighttime emergency dispatch operations. That statement could not be further from the truth. No staffing decisions have been made by either Chief Williams or the City Manager.”
Local 1245 has not been engaged in or aware of any drafting of an emergency plan or protocol involving its represented classifications for nighttime or even daytime emergency dispatching, should the current unsustainable staffing level drop below where it is at today. It would be irresponsible for us to agree that this is a “mistruth” at this time.
“Maintaining staffing levels for City of Vallejo Emergency Dispatch is an ongoing challenge, like many other areas of city operations. At present, the City has roughly a 30% vacancy rate citywide amongst all positions.”
Local 1245 agrees, and would underscore that the City could potentially remedy this issue by offering more competitive wages and benefits. The last time the City made an attempt to retain its employees, their goal was to try and get all classifications in Local 1245’s unit to within 5% of the market median by 2024 (based on 2019 numbers). For reference, our Communications Dispatchers were 19% or more below market median in 2019.
“The post pandemic hiring recovery has been tumultuous, exemplified by fierce hiring demand and competition for talent. This is impacting all employers, both municipal and private sector.”
Local 1245 presents that its members have continually left the City for other public agencies well within a commutable distance of Vallejo for wages, benefits and safe working conditions that far outweigh what the City continues to offer its employees. This exodus to safer entities occurred throughout the pandemic.
“In response, the City of Vallejo has undertaken a comprehensive compensation review of its Dispatcher positions to determine a strategy to increase competitiveness and retention.”
In March of 2022, Local 1245 was promised an update of the 2019 survey data with a possible delivery time of 4 weeks, along with scheduling another meeting to remedy this situation. But we were only approached to set dates up to meet with the City following the issuance of the VPOA press release.
“We need qualified people who are passionate about service and our community to join VPD. The City of Vallejo has been working on strategies that would attract strong candidates to join our effort. Hiring qualified public servants is a priority for VPD.”
Local 1245 absolutely agrees. Unfortunately, decisions made by the City over the course of bargaining since the bankruptcy have driven away public servants, not only from the Police Department, but every department, as evidenced by the overall vacancy rate.
“We are currently recruiting qualified candidates and looking at strategies to incentivize recruitment and retention.”
Local 1245 has not been engaged in or informed of recruitment and retention efforts, other than what it has initiated on its own, so we can’t speak to the validity of this statement, notwithstanding such items would clearly encompass mandatory subjects of bargaining.
“We want to be clear that in the interim, there will be no disruption or interruption to public safety services. We have made adjustments to shift scheduling that ensures the dispatch center is staffed 24/7. We want to thank our dedicated employees for their flexibility and commitment to our community.”
Local 1245’s dedicated members will continue to do the best they can until “adjustments” to shifts simply can’t compete with the reality of limited human beings in critical roles.
The bottom line is that IBEW 1245 members will continue to be here for you Vallejo, whenever you call and need your police department.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 1245 is currently the largest IBEW Local in the US and Canada, representing 30,000 members working in our jurisdiction of California and Nevada. Our members primarily work at investor-owned and municipal utility providers in all sectors, as well as Federal, State and Local government agencies. Visit us online at ibew1245.com to learn more.