By Madhu Krishnamurthy, Chicago Daily Herald
The union representing dispatchers for the Northwest Central Dispatch System presented a vote of no confidence in the agency’s management at a board of directors meeting Thursday morning in Arlington Heights.
The vote taken in the past week stems from members’ frustrations with a new computer-aided dispatch system installed April 24. The system, used for routing emergency calls to fire and police departments, has been plagued with problems affecting response times.
Also, difficulties with radio equipment and administrative policies have led to a stressful working environment, said Rick Tracy, an executive board member of the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, the dispatchers union.
“The union fully endorses the vote,” he said. “However, the vote was conducted by the members out of their frustration with the management.”
Of the roughly 70 members represented by the union, 66 nonprobationary employees were polled. Roughly 85 percent — 57 out of 66 members — voted that they have no confidence in management.
“It’s not just over the CAD system,” Tracy said. “It’s policy changes started years ago that led this group to unionize in February 2009.”
Software glitches caused a 14-minute delay in the response to a potential heart attack victim in Palatine earlier this month. Northwest Central Dispatch Executive Director Cindy Barbera-Brelle at the time said that was the first time the agency had delays in responses to emergency calls since the new software went live.
However, local union President Jennifer Delacerda said it was not an isolated incident and that there have been ongoing problems with the system since April 24 and as recently as Wednesday night. Problems with management have been ongoing for years, she added.
“This is just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said.
Several dispatchers said even the toughest among them are being pushed to the brink.
“When we mess up, we feel like our necks are on the line,” dispatcher Dawn Wolf said. “At some point, it’s going to come back on us. We’re going to be the scapegoat.”
Dispatcher Tim Stencel said he recently had problems with the radio system resulting in Hoffman Estates and Streamwood police officers not being able to communicate with him or with each other.
“I had officers trying to get a hold of me, and I could not hear them,” Stencel said. “I just had to give our calls hoping that they would hear me.”
The board of directors and management issued an open letter to its members about the problems earlier this week. In it, they state that the software issues are being taken seriously and management is working as diligently as possible to address them.
Delacerda urged the dispatch system’s board to take their complaints seriously.
“We unionized under this management. We took a strike vote under this management, and now we have taken a vote of no confidence,” she said.
Dispatchers also have filed seven grievances over a previous labor contract. Those are currently under arbitration, and a hearing is set for Aug. 20.
Northwest Central Dispatch board Chairman Ray Rummel thanked the dispatchers for coming forward.
“We will certainly take it under advisement,” said Rummel, who is the Elk Grove Village manager. “We do take these issues seriously, and we do want to see these issues resolved expeditiously.”
Rummel added, however, that the board has confidence in management.
“The management from our perspective follows our policies (and) rules,” he said. “I know you have some issues with the labor agreement. I implore your group to find some ways to dialogue with management.”
Northwest Central provides emergency dispatch services for about 500,000 residents in Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg and Streamwood.
Also Thursday, Barbera-Brelle said the executive committee is looking into the possibility of adding new members. The towns of Des Plaines, Morton Grove, Niles and Park Ridge have agreed to participate in a feasibility study that will cost $15,000 per community.
“I’m a little hesitant to look at new members when we have these organizational issues,” said Curt Carver, board member and Inverness village administrator.
Palatine Village Manager Reid Ottesen said the board should first focus on resolving issues with the CAD system.
However, Arlington Heights Village Manager Bill Dixon suggested that the board allow the executive committee to complete its study because any decision on adding members would still be many months away.