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Editorial: Do more to address retention at dispatch center

Editorial: Do more to address retention at dispatch center

Residency requirement is one tool to keep workers, but other issues are compelling workers to quit
Editorial: Do more to address retention at dispatch center
The Schenectady County Unified Communication Center on Hamburg Street in Rotterdam.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

If you only expand the pool of applicants to fill jobs being vacated in droves by dissatisfied workers, then all you’re going to end up with is a larger number of future dissatisfied workers.

So while Schenectady County officials are smart to expand the pool of potential applicants to fill vacancies in their turnover-plagued emergency dispatch center, they’re going to have to do a lot more to address the root causes of why so many people are leaving the jobs in the first place.

Right now, the county has a requirement that workers in the dispatch center be county residents for at least year before they are hired and remain county residents throughout their employment. 

While the rule does ensure that Schenectady County taxpayers are supporting jobs for fellow county taxpayers, it does limit the pool of qualified applicants and forces qualified employees to leave their posts if for some reason they must move beyond the county borders.

In a society of two-earner households, it might not be practical for both wage earners to live and work within the same county. To shorten commutes, it might, for instance, be more practical financially for that family to live in a nearby county and split the difference in mileage to each of their jobs, especially if the other wage earner is making more money.

So dumping the residency requirement is probably a good first step.

But county officials can’t stop there.

Some current and former dispatch center workers say low pay, long hours that often involve double shifts, and the high stress of the dispatch job are also contributing to people leaving, as are issues some employees have with the way the center is being managed.

County officials should look at the entire situation at the center, including whether baseline staffing levels are high enough to ensure that the work isn’t unreasonably demanding for the number of people who work there. They also need to look at the pay levels in nearby counties to determine if what dispatchers are being paid locally is comparable to what similar jobs are paying. If not, they’ll need to address the compensation issue in the upcoming contract negotiations and be prepared to budget for additional staffing and pay raises next year.

They’ll also need to speak with workers about whatever issues there might be with management and take steps to address those issues. That might include replacing managers if officials find they’re not managing the facility appropriately and compelling workers to leave.

If county officials ignore those problems, then just eliminating the residency requirement won’t solve anything in the long run.

If your plan is to stop the bleeding from a gaping wound, a Band-Aid will only do so much.

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