SCHENECTADY -- Dispatchers in the Schenectady County central dispatching center will get pay boosts under a new three-year contract designed to help the county recruit and keep public safety dispatchers.
The County Legislature on Tuesday approved the agreement, which will be retroactive to last January and immediately boost the pay of new trainees from $33,578 to $37,276 -- an increase of more than 11 percent.
The base rate for experienced dispatchers will immediately increase 4.33 percent, to $48,489. In 2020 and 2021, the basic increase for all dispatching personnel will rise an additional 2 percent each year.
County Attorney Chris Gardner said that the first contract between the county and the dispatchers, which ran from 2014 to 2018, was successful in bringing dispatchers who had been covered under four different municipal contracts with varying pay levels under a single county contract. The first contract included a two-tier pay system. The new contract "represents a mid-course correction which recognizes the difficulty and stress of the occupation," Gardner said.
"This is a fair contract for the employees and for the county because it recognizes the importance of this crucial county service," Gardner said.
The new contract eliminates the two-tier salary structure, which Gardner believes will improve workplace morale.
The roughly 45 dispatchers are represented by the Civil Service Employees' Association Local 1000.
Recruitment and retention have been problems since the county established the central dispatching center in 2014, melding the teams of dispatchers who previously worked in separate emergency dispatching centers for the city of Schenectady and towns of Niskayuna, Glenville and Rotterdam.
The new contract explicitly recognizes that raising pay for both new probationary dispatchers and experienced dispatchers is necessary and concedes that the job comes with high stress levels.
"The job of public safety dispatcher in the Unified Communications Center is much more difficult than the same job in the four prior dispatch centers," according to a legislative memo. "There is little downtime. They employee must be able to master different protocols for several police agencies and over two dozen volunteer firefighter districts."
Previous actions aimed at introducing the dispatch center's recruitment issues have included waiving a requirement that new hires be county residents.
Gardner said pay increases need to be part of the answer. “We recognize the market realities and we need to have the best people available," he said.
The county will also achieve some savings, he said, primarily through giving the employees different dental insurance coverage and other health care insurance changes.
The center handles about 75,000 emergency calls a year from the city of Schenectady and towns of Glenville, Niskayuna, Rotterdam, Princetown and Duanesburg, each of which pays part of the cost.