PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- They're the vital link between victims in need of help and their first responders, but 911 dispatchers said months of mandatory 12-hour shifts have put themselves and the public at risk.
"They're doing the best that they can do, but you all know what can happen when folks are extremely tired and still under stressful situations. The 911 jobs are among the most stressful jobs in the county," said Al Smith, SEIU business agent.
Contract negotiations between the SEIU representing the dispatchers and the county appear to be at an impasse, and the dispatchers are holding a vote to authorize a one-day strike on March 12 -— the day of Pittsburgh's St. Patrick Day Parade.
"We have to send them a 10-day notice. That notice will go out first thing tomorrow morning," Smith said.
The SEIU contract with the county covers the dispatchers and about 400 other clerical workers in a variety of county departments. It has been up since the beginning of the year. In a statement, the county said it has met with the union a dozen times. Out of 14 unions representing county employees, the county said the SEIU is one of only two unions that haven't come to terms.
"We bargain with all of our labor partners in good faith and will continue to do so," the statement said.
The county said it has two dispatcher classes in training, but Smith said the county's inability to retain workers has resulted in continual staffing shortages, requiring dispatchers to work shifts as long as 16 hours. They want a return to the eight-hour workday.
Smith: If you come to work at 911 and you think you're going to be working 40, 48 hours a week and you find out you're working 60 hours a week, now folks are saying, 'I can get another job even making less money, at least I can see my family.'
Sheehan: And if you go out on a strike for a day, will the public be at risk?
Smith: Our job is to make sure our members safe. Their job is to keep the people at 911 working so the public will be safe.
The SEIU and the county have one more negotiation session scheduled for Friday. The union said it will make a statement after to see if the strike can be averted.
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