NWCD Strike Possible
Dispatchers say labor dispute could lead to strike
By Sheila Ahern | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 7/21/2010 12:00
AMA police union representing about 70 dispatchers has dropped the "S" word, saying a strike is a real possibility if talks with their employer don't improve next month.
"We feel Northwest Central is delaying negotiations with us," said Richard Tracy, an executive board member of the Metropolitan Alliance of Police. "One day we spent five hours talking about how we should post a list. Another time we spent hours talking about a filing cabinet. We're not getting anywhere and we haven't even talked about pay or benefits yet."
Northwest Central Dispatch System is the biggest single dispatcher of police and fire in the Northwest suburbs, covering Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg and Streamwood, as well as the Inverness Police Department, Palatine Rural Fire Protection District and Prospect Heights police.
The two sides have met once or twice a month since September 2009, as they negotiate the group's first-ever collective bargaining agreement.
There is no deadline for when a contract must be signed, said Cindy Barbera-Brelle, the executive director of the dispatch system.
Barbera-Brelle said the two sides "are making progress" and that it's too early to talk about a possible strike. She did confirm wages and insurance haven't been discussed yet.
"Our strategy is to focus on the noneconomic issues and get them settled before we get into economic issues," she said. "We would like to get this contract done as soon as possible but this is the first contract and it's critical that everything is done correctly. It takes longer because we're starting with a blank slate."
The two sides will meet again on Aug. 2.
This month things got more heated after Barbera-Brelle sent out an e-mail to surrounding departments asking them to identify people with dispatch experience. The union took her note to mean she was looking for people to fill in should a strike happen.
In response, Tracy issued a memo warning local police and fire not to fill in for Northwest Central Dispatch System.
"We feel the Northwest Central Dispatch System is attempting to staff the center in the event our members strike," he wrote in the memo dated July 6.
"Before you volunteer to handle dispatching duties at NWCDS keep in mind you will be interfering in a labor dispute. This is the time we need to stand together and support our fellow union members."
Barbera-Brelle said the union misinterpreted her memo, which she called "an undated staffing plan."
"Their recount of the e-mail isn't accurate," she said. "We are responsible for the public safety of 485,000 residents and I was simply updating our staffing list."
Arlington Heights Village Manager Bill Dixon and Mount Prospect Village Manager Michael Janonis declined to comment on the negotiations.
However, Schaumburg Village Manager Ken Fritz said there is no reason to think a strike is imminent.
"This is the first contract and that typically takes some time," Fritz said. "No one has stopped talking and no meetings have been suspended."
Unlike police and fire officers, dispatchers are allowed to go on strike. When the Labor Act was written in the mid-1980s, there was no centralized group of dispatchers, Tracy said.
"Thirty years ago, police departments handled their own dispatching and it was job you did until you became a cop," he said. "Now, it's a very specialized group."
When police and fire groups have contract disputes, they hire a third party arbitrator who listens to both sides and reaches a decision.
Northwest Central answers about 274,000 emergency telephone calls per year and dispatches about 222,000 police calls and 52,000 fire and emergency service calls. The center has 71 dispatchers, two alarm operators, seven operations managers, and 12 administrative staff.