By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — A judge ruled this week that six North Tonawanda police dispatchers who moved to Niagara County last year as part of a consolidation measure should receive the same benefits and seniority rights as the other 18 members of the county unit they joined in June.
The decision was handed down on Monday by state Supreme Court Judge Matthew T. Murphy, who determined civil service laws had been violated and pay raises should take effect retroactively, while seniority rights should fall in line with other county employees
The six dispatchers filed a suit in September contesting that “undercounting” of their seniority was costing them hourly and longevity pay, vacation time and potential health care retirement benefits afforded to members of the Niagara County Sheriffs Association, the union representing the county dispatchers.
The suit was filed by dispatchers Lisa DiFrancesco, Kelly Earnst, Brenda Higgins, Michael Janowsky, Michelle Maraschiello and Raymond Yurek, who were former employees of North Tonawanda’s police dispatch before transferring to the county in June.
”In a nutshell when they moved there they were moved involuntarily,” said Bill Davignon, CSEA Unit President, who represented the dispatchers in North Tonawanda. “It was a forced merger.”
While each of the North Tonawanda dispatchers has between seven and 12 years of experience, Davignon said that overall they average 10 years on the job, which will mean an average jump from approximately $20 and hour to $23 following this week’s ruling.
North Tonawanda will have to make up the difference of approximately $37,000 for last year, thought the decision may be appealed. In a deal formed early in 2012, the city agreed to pay the county roughly $400,000 for the first year of the move, which will decrease by 25 percent for four years until costs associated with the dispatchers are entirely absorbed into the county budget.
Davignon said the members claims were justified as added responsibilities and knowledge are required of their new roles, including certification for fire dispatching and explaining first aid through 911 calls.
The NCSA also awards vacation time and requests for particular shifts and vacation dates based on seniority that will now take effect for the North Tonawanda dispatchers. One dispatcher also argued that her seniority with the county should have been based off her overall time with the city. Higgins worked for the city since 2003, but became a dispatcher in 2007. The judge agreed.
”The city has said they, no matter what, they’re gong to save money in the long run,” Davignon said. “And they should have taken care of this in the first place and just give the people what they deserved. They’re earning it with extra training and extra responsibilities.”
City Attorney Shawn Nickerson, who was involved in the suit’s court proceedings along with county representatives, said the city is still going to save money in the long run. County officials did not immediately return calls for comment on whether they would file an appeal.
”From the city standpoint it was a county decision,” Nickerson said. “That was something the dispatchers raised with the county and there was no way the city could grant those requests.”Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.