EAST WINDSOR: Dispatchers plead with council to reconsider outsourcing jobs

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
EAST WINDSOR – Dispatchers pleaded with council to keep their jobs during Tuesday night’s meeting.
Mayor Janice Mironov adjusted the format of the public forum from its usual form to hear from the large number dispatchers, police officers, family, friends and supporters gathered at the back of the room during the meeting on Nov. 10.
“We do appreciate all of the comments. We take them to heart. We will take them very seriously,” said Mayor Mironov. “As you know, we are looking at the subject but we have not made any decisions yet,” she said.
Resident and Teamsters Local 676 Union delegate Veronica Nash was the first to speak.
“I love my job, I love people, and I enjoy doing it,” said Ms. Nash, adding that she has been doing it for more than 30 years.
She said that she doesn’t understand why the council is looking outsource the dispatch jobs.
“You have a great commodity in East Windsor,” she said. “You have more than 85 years of experience on the (dispatch) desk. That’s something that a lot of towns don’t have to brag about. But instead of bragging about it, you are looking to throw it away like it’s dirty bath water. I don’t know why you are willing to do it.”
Ms. Nash said the council is looking to bring in a private company (IXP) that is new to New Jersey in the dispatching field.
“We have all this experience working with the residents of our town, we know a lot of them by name and they know us,” she said. “We have handled emergency calls for people sitting up there on council.”
James Grant, of Aberdeen, former East Windsor radio officer, said he currently serves in an administration position for another job.
“Veronica spoke of the revolving door that IXP will bring to this township,” he said, adding he can speak to that. He said that nine-man police department dispatch center (he worked for) saw more than 120 dispatchers go through that door.
“What that led to was an inexperienced work force,” he said.
Now currently serving East Windsor are seven full- time and two part-time dispatchers, with one to two on shift at a time, working an eight-hour shift, as previously reported.
“We look out for the safety of our police officers in town and all of our residents,” said Ms. Nash.
Township Manager Jim Brady said public safety is of paramount importance to the township.
“Any change to dispatch communication services would require the contracted company to ensure all measures necessary to perform at a level that will guarantee public safety, as well as the safety of all emergency personnel,” he said in an email on Oct. 28.
“The people that you have working at your desk are there because they want to be there,” said, Ms. Nash, who has been on the job for 19 years. “We work weekends, holidays, we rotate our shifts. We do it because we enjoy helping people. If you go private you are not going to get the people who are going to stay the way that we stay.”
Susan Handelman, another 911 dispatcher, who lives in Monroe, said she has been with the township for about two and a half years.
“Prior to working for East Windsor, I was a dispatcher in Lawrence Township for more than 10 years,” she said. “I was a casualty of IXP.”
She said she doesn’t think people realize how important it is to have seasoned and competent people in the job.
“As trained dispatchers, we can handle any situation that is thrown our way and are able to send help as quickly as possible,” she said. “The public has no idea what’s going on in our little bubble at any given moment,” she said.
“We might be getting a 911 phone call and you are answering what time is the parade without having an issue with that,” she said. “As dispatchers you must be able to multi-task. We all get emergency calls, we have to keep the caller on the line, we have to dispatch an officer, we have to dispatch either EMS or fire department, medics, and also staying on the line giving them instructions and obtaining information to keep the responders up-to-date.”
Ms. Handelman said that the dispatchers have requested meetings but have not gotten to speak to the mayor about why she wants to go ahead and privatize dispatch service.
Mr. Brady said the township initially published a public notice Sept. 28, requesting proposals for Dispatch Communication Services.
“Publication of this notice was an error and occurred prior to the township communications center staff being notified,” he said. “The Sept. 28 public notice was cancelled by the township and a new public notice was published.”
He said he sent a letter to the communications center staff and its union representative explaining the township’s request for proposals for Dispatch Communication Services.
On Oct. 15, 2015, the Chief of Police (Harry Marshall) and he met with all communications center staff and their union representative to discuss the Township’s request for proposals, he said.
“This meeting shared information with them and provided an opportunity for the employees’ and union representatives’ concerns to be noted and discussed,” he said. “It was explained to those in attendance that many of the concerns could not be responded to by the township because proposals have not yet been submitted.”
Ms. Handelman asked the council to ponder the points before them to make an extremely important decision to privatize the dispatch center.
“It’s a known fact that the turnover rate in Lawrence is astronomical,” she said.She said that IXP officials will say that they will try to keep all existing employees.
“They only offered the position to one person from Lawrence Police Department and that was a new employee who was making a salary much closer to the ones that they pay,” she said.
Other dispatchers who had close to 15-plus years of experience who applied were told they were not needed, she said.
“I’m sure that will be the same here,” she said.
Mr. Brady said in connection with any private company “turnover” comments, it can be noted that there has been more than 50 percent turnover of East Windsor Township dispatch center staff in the past four years.
“Only two dispatchers have been with the township for more than 10 years, four have been with the township less than four years and two township dispatch staff have left within the past two years,” he said.
Ms. Handleman asked the council if they have factored in the costs of the upgrades to the center that IXP “will demand as they did in Lawrence.”
Dave Handelman, of Monroe, said that the minute Mayor Mironov signs the contract, council will have to upgrade that system. “It will cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars to do that,” he said. “I ask you how are you going to justify to the taxpayers of East Windsor, spending over a half a million dollars for a service that you already have?”
Mr. Grant pointed out that Mayor Mironov has been here a long time and she is known throughout the state. “You can guarantee that this decision will not be a highlight of your career,” he said. “This is not a good one for the township. This is one that will affect not only the seven people standing behind you, but will affect the many officers in this room and about 30,000 residents that you have in this town.”
Mr. Handelman said that the numbers don’t add up to make this a financially fiscal decision. “The bid is for $704,000 for the year,” he said. “The dispatchers don’t make anywhere near that kind of money.”
Mayor Mironov said that the council has just begun its review. “We are obviously looking at all aspects of the subject, all comments, all considerations,” she said.
She said that council has previously met with the Township Manager (James Brady) and the Chief of Police (Harry Marshall) and have shared comments at that point. “I know there is an additional meeting in the process or is being set up,” she said. “Let me assure you that we are going to consider every comment, every aspect, every cost, (and) every procedure. We are committed at the very end of this process to ensuring that we maintain a high quality service dispatch center,” she said.