NEW ORLEANS, LA – The board of the Orleans Parish Communications District agreed Tuesday to the city’s plan to consolidate all 911 operators and dispatchers, but it put off dealing with thorny questions about how the move will affect the pay and union representation of the roughly 140 workers who handle emergency calls in the city.
Under the consolidation plan, which has been pushed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, city government will continue to pay for operations at the dispatch center, but the workers will be employed by the state-created communications district rather than the various city emergency agencies.
That change is designed to streamline operations at the center by allowing all dispatchers to handle all calls — whether for police, fire or emergency medical services — rather than fielding emergencies only for their respective agencies.
The 10-1 vote to sign an agreement with the city that would put the changes into effect raised concerns from the union representing the city’s firefighters, which argued the plan did not do enough to protect the fire dispatchers’ pay and could eliminate their protection under the Fire Department’s collective bargaining agreement.
The new arrangement will take effect only after the board approves policies for employees, the Attorney General’s Office blesses the consolidation and the City Council gives its approval. The council will have to move money around in the budget to finance the changes.
Objections to the proposal came largely from the firefighters union. The 22 fire dispatchers have the most to lose under consolidation.
They are paid more than those from other agencies because of state laws affecting only Fire Department employees and because they have a stronger union than those working for other agencies.
Firefighters union President Nick Felton called for assurances that the 22 dispatchers would keep their pay and their union representation — which could potentially open the union to the other dispatchers as well. Felton also urged the city to keep the dispatchers in the civil service system so they can retain the protections offered by that system, even though the Civil Service Commission on Monday approved removing them from the system.
Andy Kopplin, Landrieu’s chief administrative officer, would not promise the Fire Department dispatchers would retain their union contract after the consolidation and said the city attorney would have to weigh in on the matter. The fire dispatchers will be allowed to keep their higher salaries — which are about $10,000 more than those of the other dispatchers — as long as they complete the training needed to handle calls for other agencies.
Kopplin has said all the employees will make as much or more than they do now.
The Communications District board is expected to meet in coming weeks to determine specific employee policies, including how much each employee will make and how long workers will have to meet the new requirements.