911 dispatcher calls labor situation “dehumanizing”
by Garth Meyer
Mia Halsell, a six-year Redondo Beach emergency dispatcher stepped to the podium Sept. 5 at the city council meeting during public comment.
She said that, of the 23 people she and a colleague have trained, three remain on the job. She said 911 dispatchers in the city have been in a staffing crisis for five years.
“We have only one full-time supervisor and we need four. We have five dispatchers and eight shifts to fill,” Halsell said.
She told the council she and her colleagues work a mandatory minimum of 100 overtime hours per month.
“And most of us do a lot more… This is unsustainable, and it’s dehumanizing,” she said. “I really want to implore you, please consider us as people, and not just employees.”
It is illegal for emergency dispatchers to strike.
Halsell is a member of one of three public employee unions in the city seeking a new contract after the current contract ends Dec. 31.
Negotiations started in July. Union representatives for the Redondo Beach City Employee Association (RBCEA) met with city Human Resources negotiators into August, and will resume in October.
“They’re pretty set on not giving us what we need, or want,” said Peter Tucker, a city building inspector and RBCEA president. “I pointed out to them that the city fee schedules are way too low. I’m glad they don’t have a business, they’d be broke by now.”
A main thrust of each unions’ requests are higher wages — to align more with neighboring cities. A Redondo Beach-commissioned salary study showed Redondo on the bottom half of the list. Some jobs are more than 25 percent below the market rate.
This summer, the city council included $1.8 million in the (fiscal) 2023-24 budget for employee raises, which representatives of the unions praised – though saying it is not enough to get the Redondo rank and file to market rate pay.
The city council gives direction to Human Resources negotiators in closed sessions.
“It’s early in the process and it’s ongoing so I won’t comment too much about it,” said Councilmember Paige Kaluderovic.
The council voted in June to open negotiations, which is earlier than usual for contracts ending in December.
“Hopefully we can stay together,” said Tucker, of the three city unions. “It makes for a bigger voice.”
The Redondo Beach Professional and Supervisory Association (RBPSA) represents city supervisory positions, such as those in the police department and engineers in Public Works. Teamsters Local 911 represents Public Works field employees.
“We’re grateful that the city started negotiations early (but) we were hoping that they’d come to the table with a little more,” said Lina Carillo, Redondo Beach Police Department analyst and RBPSA president. “It falls far short of the median. We’re just asking to be paid, on average, what the surrounding cities pay for equivalent positions.”
The RBPSA has had five meetings with city negotiators, going back to August. The next, Carillo said, would come after the Sept. 19 city council meeting.
What about the $1.8 million?
“It doesn’t seem they’re necessarily utilizing all of it,” said Carillo. ”It appears that way.”
The Redondo Beach-commissioned salary survey consisted of 12 comparable cities. It showed local base salaries for front line office staff and Teamsters at 25 percent below market rate, with benefits packages taking it down to 18 percent. For para-professionals like Carillo (analysts, planners, Public Works engineers and supervisors), the pay is 15 percent below, but 3.5 percent below when adding benefits.
“This is a process, and we’re working through it,” said City Manager Mike Witzansky. “We value our employees and we’re actively engaged in negotiations. I have confidence that we’ll come to (an agreement) supported by the city and the labor organizations.”
Police officers and firefighters are on separate contracts from what is being discussed.
Police chief remarks on 911 dispatch
Redondo Beach Police Chief Joe Hoffman spoke to Easy Reader Wednesday about emergency dispatcher Mia Halsell’s comments to the city.
“We have been experiencing staffing challenges, but it’s not unique to the city of Redondo Beach,”
he said.“It is a very important job that is hard to recruit for, it is very intense and stressful. It truly is a lifeline to the community.”
The chief said that the city has taken steps to alleviate working conditions described by Halsell.
Last year, as part of reorganization in the department, a position was created as communications manager, whose sole responsibility is overseeing the dispatch unit. The person appointed came from within, and still dispatches too. A recently retired supervisor has stayed on an extra year to help. Hoffman said he interviewed a new candidate Wednesday and another is going through background checks.
“I do recognize the toll these staffing challenges have taken on our dispatchers. It does not go unnoticed,” he said. “We’re on the right path. We have a plan in place.”
The police chief is not involved in city labor negotiations.
Is Hoffman concerned at all for the effectiveness of Redondo Beach emergency dispatch in this situation?
“It’s the opposite. The services far exceed the regional centers,” he said, referring to area dispatch operations which serve multiple cities. “We know everyone on a first-name basis… Our communications unit is top-notch. Redondo Beach is a full-service city. We have our own fire department, police department and emergency dispatch.”
Area cities which contract with the South Bay Regional Communications Center include Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo and Gardena. ER