Tonawanda News

September 15, 2012

Dispatchers sue Niagara County

Staff reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Six Niagara County dispatchers are suing the county to recover seniority credits taken from them when they were transferred from the City of North Tonawanda.

The dispatchers’ suit, filed Sept. 11, claims undercounting of their seniority is costing them in hourly pay, longevity pay, vacation time, shift and vacation bidding rights and, potentially, retiree healthcare benefits that are accorded other members of the Niagara County Deputy Sheriffs Association, the union that represents sheriff’s personnel including dispatchers.

Dispatchers Lisa DiFrancesco, Kelly Earnst, Brenda Higgins, Michael Janowsky, Michelle Maraschiello and Raymond Yurek all are former employees of North Tonawanda’s civilian dispatch unit. Effective this past July 1, they became Niagara County employees and started working at the sheriff’s dispatch office, per a deal to have the county take over all police dispatching in North Tonawanda.

According to the suit, the dispatchers’ prior years of service to North Tonawanda is not being fully recognized by the county. That’s against Civil Service Law, the suit says.

When the dispatchers became county employees, all were assigned “step 3” starting pay, $20.20 per hour, although all had more than 3 years of employment with North Tonawanda.

The suit says the county isn’t counting the transfers’ prior service in terms of calculating their longevity pay steps either.  Five of the transferred dispatchers have more than 10 years of service, which according to the NCDSA contract should put them at Step 10 on the pay scale, or $23.62 per hour. Instead, the county considers the transfers’ longevity date to be July 1.

Dispatchers are awarded vacation time, and standing to request particular shifts and vacation dates, based on seniority, according to the NCDSA contract.

The county is assigning seniority for the purpose of calculating vacation time based on how long employees have been emergency dispatchers. One transferred dispatcher, Brenda Higgins, takes exception to this in the suit, because she became a dispatcher in 2007 but had worked for the City of North Tonawanda since 2003. The county not counting Higgins’ pre-dispatch service costs her 2 days of vacation.

NCDSA’s contract says employees get 10 vacation days after 1 year of service, 15 days after 5 years, 17 days after 8 years, 20 days after 10 years, 15 days after 23 years and 25 days after 20 years.

The transfers’ county employment start date being set at July 1 also puts them lowest in the pecking order when it comes to requesting certain shifts and days off, according to the suit. Dispatchers get a shift differential, or extra pay, of 50 cents per hour for working the afternoon shift, and 55 cents per hour for working the overnight shift.

The grieving dispatchers all worked for North Tonawanda between 9 1/2 and 11 1/2 years before they were “involuntarily” transferred to the county’s employ. “(They) have more seniority than many of the dispatchers working for Niagara County,” the suit said.