To the Editor: The public at large often takes for granted those essential services so ingrained in society that their existence makes government work.
I want to stand and honor my exhausted colleagues who suffer day in and day out to bridge the gap of public service—NYC 911 call takers/Dispatchers. Moreover, I want to call for legislative support of special provisions to protect those newly minted first-responders.
Those of us educated in criminal justice know it is not the law that maintains the social order but order that maintains the law. A single call to 911 connects all members of the public without fear or favor to emergency functions of government. There are people who routinely dial 911 intentionally just to be reassured that someone is always there.
In all emergencies, natural and man-made, this incredible workforce connects the public to help when needing medical, fire or public-safety assistance. But these workers have been given short shift for too long.
Wrongly categorized them as mere clerical workers negates the vital role they play in every aspect of life. They face constant mandatory overtime, resulting in brutal workloads and sometimes mere hours of turnaround time between shifts. Unlike their counterparts—Fire Alarm Dispatchers and Emergency Medical Service Dispatchers—there are no uniformed-status protections to control their labor terms. They are unable to bargain for what they actually do.
This has contributed to higher than normal rates of sickness,higher employee turnover, higher disciplinary rates and zero worker-retention efforts. The recent state granting of their official status as "first-reponders" needs to be backed up with real protections to keep those seats occupied by better-trained, better-compensated and better-rested emergency-service professionals.
New York City 911 is the largest emergency call center in North America. It's time for this government to catch up and truly do the right thing. These civilians are not facilitated in anyway by the departments they serve and quickly vilified and punished for every delay or error. Unlike typical clerical workers, they are expected to get to their worksites during natural disasters.
Can they be late in hurricanes or snowstorms and face discipline? Absolutely. Their annual evaluations are also inordinately based entirely on attendance. Their union is Local 1549 of DC 37, which advocates readily for more workers yet fails to adequately and proactively address their concerns of overwork and abysmal morale.
Just as our health professionals are protected from the deleterious effects of excessive hours worked through the Libby Zion Law, so must the 911 system and its workers be under equal protections. It is past time for the State Legislature to provide protections where they are needed most: to serve and protect those who serve and protect us all.