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911 Operators Continue to Fight for a Safe Workplace During the COVID-19 Pandemic

June 3, 2020

By Naeisha Rose

New York, NY – As New York City makes plans to ease restrictions revolving around social distancing and opening businesses, some unions are fighting to maintain social distancing at the workplace for its members that are essential workers that have to travel during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Nearly a dozen 911 operators have died during the coronavirus pandemic – and more needs to be done to protect the exposed workforce.

They are also fighting just as hard to keep their members from leaving a stressful job, that doesn’t always pay well.

“The 911 operators are on top of each other,” said 2nd Vice President Ralph Palladino, Local 1549. “The situation isn’t even like a square hole in a round peg, it’s more like you have a box of a certain size, but you can’t separate everyone from within it, you need to increase the size of the box.”

Nearly a dozen 911 operators ended up dying from the virus, according to Palladino. 

“We advocated for the NYPD to put up [plexiglass shield in the] cubicles around the desk to shield the operators and they agreed,” said Palladino. “Before it was basically an open-space cubicle and now we are getting it and doing it, but we had to get in there to get that.”

In the beginning of the crisis, 911 operators did have the personal protection equipment and were getting tested, but without the shield it was hard to maintain workflow and social distance, especially for its many members that were seniors, according to Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriguez. 

“The governor is saying that anyone that was 65 should stay home,” said Rodriguez. “Yeah, that’s good for everybody else, but 911 can’t work at home.”

Some of the older members had to take time off from work so that they won’t get sick or they took supervisory roles, according Rodriguez. Others opted to retired. 

“If I’m on the night shift and I have to do another shift, that is exhausting,” said Rodriguez. 

Unfortunately, in a rush to replace operators that took time off or took on supervisory roles, the NYPD directed some of its members who were former 911-PTT (push-to-talk) to work at the call centers, but didn’t test them for COVID-19, according to Rodriguez.

“They had put in over 400 police officers, but they never tested them!” said Rodriguez. “Then some of the police officers were upset and didn’t want to do the job, but we made sure that they had the PPE.”

The city needs to hire more 911-PTT operators, according to Rodriguez. 

“If we had enough operators, maybe they wouldn’t have to work every day, or we can have some on one shift and others on a different schedule. They also wouldn’t have to work overtime, or be exhausted. Sometimes they finish a shift and they try to keep you.”

For the moment, the 911 operators are not as overwhelmed as they were in March and April, but Rodriguez hopes the city will hire more 911 operators in the future.

“There is a bill in Washington to make them official first responders because of their work,” said Palladino.

Despite offloading the non-emergency calls for 911, 311 members are in the same boat as the 911 operators and they also have to deal with an additional work function, according to Palladino. 

“The 311 operators also have to go through text messages, that is something the 911 operators won’t go through yet until maybe June 1,” according to Palladino. 

The call centers for 311 used to average 40,000 to 55,000 calls daily, but during the height of the pandemic they received 150,000 to 200,000 calls daily, according to a Local 1549 Spring/Summer 2020 newsletter. 

Similar to the 911 operators, their 311 counterparts still had to travel to work, according to Palladino. To maintain social distancing, they were relocated to other buildings and break room areas were transformed as new office space. Unfortunately, despite doing work similar to 911 operators with the additional job of checking text messages, 311 operators make far less.

“It is hard to maintain staffing at 311 because the pay is low,” said Palladino. “As soon as they jump in, they leave to get other jobs.”

A call center job is highly technical and requires these operators to remember over 500 different codes to solve issues, according to Palladino. 

The make around $28,000 to $30,000 a year, according to Rodriguez. 

“It’s not easy work and we need more of them,” said Palladino. “The federal government needs to raise taxes on the rich.”

Operators at 311 call centers tend to stay on for two years and eventually leave for customer service jobs that pay much more, according to Rodriguez. 

“We are doing are best to bargain to make sure they get more money and get promotions,” said Rodriguez. “If people have families they have to go where the money is. You wouldn’t be able to get an apartment or would have to be on Section 8. Otherwise, they may have to get an additional job. If you pay them they will stay.”

June 3, 2020

20 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “911 Operators Continue to Fight for a Safe Workplace During the COVID-19 Pandemic”

  1. Raymonde says:

    I retire

    • Fed up says:

      People stay because they need a job . The union needs to not take two jobs and compare them. E911 saves everyone . 311 helps people get telephone numbers . Clearly Mr . Eddie Rodgriuez knows nothing of each titles . Anyone over 65 was sent home because the cdc labeled them vulnerable . No people were put into supervisory rolls due to age . Where is this information obtained from ? I wonder when was the last time he had a real conversation with 911 calltakers at both sites Brooklyn and the Bronx? The police commissioner came into the building just for photo ops but did not care that the building was low on supplies . That the 911 operators , dispatchers , and supervisors are being ordered for overtime . No social distancing is occurring . Plexiglass does not stop the corona virus from spreading . People were exposed and were still told to come to work if they had no symptoms . Meanwhile they should have remained quarantined for 14 days .

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi I am a former 911 operator. I have worked for NYCPD 911 for the past 24 years. I recently retired from NYPD 911 February 2020. I find it unconscionable that DC37 Local 1549 would equate the job of a 911 Operator/Dispatcher to be compared to a 311 operator !
    In short the none emergency calls taking by the 311 operator was once the responsibility of the 911 operator as well as still performing emergency services to the entire Tristate area.
    To alleviate the stressful call volume at 911 the none emergency call center of 311 was established to handle the calls that are NOT LIFE THREATENING EMERGENCIES.
    The 911 operators are FIRST RESPONDERS who are on the front lines with providing dispatch for NYCPD FDNY, EMS PERSONNEL & VARIOUS OTHER HIGH LEVEL OFFICIAL PERSONNEL WITHIN THE POLICE DEPARTMENT and throughout the world.
    The 311 operators though they answer calls, they are of none emergency an are ESSENTIAL WORKERS. When the 311 operators do receive an emergency call its transferred to 911 to be addressed.
    Therefore the two jobs shouldn’t be compared because they are NOT EQUIVALENT IN WORK RESPONSIBILITIES therefore shouldn’t have the same pay scale.
    The NYPD 911 operators are over worked and undered paid. When their salaries are compared to other 911 dispatchers across the nation, the disparities are at leat five to ten thousand dollars differences in their salary.
    The union of DC37 & Local 1549 are suppose to represents the 911 operators in good favor. By undermining the job of a 911 operator and comparing their responsibilities to the work of the none emergency call taking center of the 311 operator. This exhibits the lack to representation for the 911 operator concerns and needs.
    The 911 operators have filed a lawsuit against Local 1549 & DC37 fir this very same reason of failure to properly represent 911 operators. The suit was won !
    But to no avail because the 911 operators are still over worked, under paid and without representation that will fight for what they need instead of segue the facts !

    • Anonymous says:

      Very well said. 911 is totally different from 311 and it shouldn’t even be compare to 911 first responders it an insult and disrespectful. We work hard and our job is very stressful. We are the unspoken heroes.

  3. Lisa says:

    Police Communications Technicians do not belong in an administrative local such as 1549. Local 1549 represents clerical workers. The objectives of a 911 Police Communications Technicians is far more complicated than that of a clerk.

    Police Communications Technicians handle a variety of stressful and demanding incidents such as, police shootings, police officers shot, victims shot, suspects shot, barricaded suspects, robberies, rape victims, people wishing to commit suicide, domestic violence, illnesses, deaths and so much more. What clerk has these duties?

    We are in law enforcement and approximately 90% of our duties involve a crime.

    Police Communications Technicians should be under a law enforcement local and receive peace officer status. After all, they also receive the same disciplinary actions as a police officer; such as G-O 15’s, CD’s, 30 days suspensions, trials and hearings.

    It is time for DC 37 and local 1549 to face the elephant in the room and be truthful with themselves that Police Communications Technicians are in a league by themselves and should be under a DIFFERENT Local.

    Perhaps someone can reach out to the Police Benevolent Association to speak with Patrick Lynch and his team to see how best to receive the representation, acknowledgment, pay raise and status Police Communications Technicians truly deserve.

    Don’t sleep on this message- it’s time for change.

    • Linda Jones says:

      I agree 100 percent . 911 operators never belonged in a clerical title . But the union is only worried about themselves . 1549 just wants our biweekly dues . If they change our titles they can lose our money . They do not want that . Maybe we should call Chief Napatalino everyday and remind him how important we are. Shack up the tree internally . He does not care if his PCTs get sick . He only cares about his numbers on the floor .

    • Morris says:

      Thank you,Well said

  4. Lee Jones says:

    First and foremost Mr Rodriguez does not care about PCTs , let’s get that one right . Nor does Alma Roper and she was once a PCT . The union bailed out once Covid hit 911 . Yes cops entered the building and they were not tested . But having your temperature checked when you walk in and out of the building does not mean you. are not a carrier . Many people have had covid and had no symptoms . They pass it on and the cycle of infected operators continues . Working in a building that has no natural air and is cleaning periodically . 911 is a breathing ground for every person to be infected by covid and pass it on to their families . We just become a picture that the NYPD will put in their memorial . Yet when one passes away they families are given a mere $10,000 . While they missed holidays , birthdays . We pay more in taxes then our family will ever receive. We hold this city down and never given any recognition. The union does not care about PCTs . If we all get sick the police officers whom are now taking the police calls can not do our job . We can not be replaced by cops. Yet when you ask the union why cops are taking 911 class they do not have an answer . The answer is their union assigned them to work here . Yet the cops are not even there to fill the weekends when calls are at its highest volume . The union is of no help . PCTs getting cds for failure to follow instructions because they refuse to move to another Avenue because they no longer have cleaning supplies . Just because a principal or supervisor wants to close and avenue ? Or how about captains giving pct’s and spct awols because they walked in the door with a fever . And were directed by the doctor to have their temperatures checked again? So our lives do not matter . Not to a Principal . And our Chief of communications is safe in his office but not making sure social distancing is being practiced. Getting one pair of gloves and one mask per night . Yet you are being ordered for overtime . Two shifts same equipment . Shame on you . But I bet everyone that works for you and in your office has an abundance of supplies . Shame on the union and the communications chief . Step down .

  5. Anonymous says:

    Two jobs same union . One only stands out because Former Mayor Bloomberg’s daughter worked at 311 . There is no comparison to what 911 does . We are the lifeline of New York City . All five boroughs . The union has never cared about 911 . When issues arise you are quickly told you have to do your job . And if you don’t want to do your job what are you still there . When you get hired by 911 you are told if you have children to have a backup babysitter and an additional backup babysitter . Women and men who take the positions as 911 calltakers lise relationship due to the outrageous overtime forced upon them . No one knows fruit what it is to work for 911 . Being held for two shifts to travel home and get less than 4 to 5 hours sleep . Travel back to work and be able to function . We hear you hat no one else hears . The first calls for help . We wear uniforms and get a yearly allowance of $100.00 . A shirt cost $ 47.00 . Police officers get $1,000 per year . We may not be on the street but we work hard for the city and the police units on the street . What is truly sad in order to get the union and the NYPD to pay us properly we have to sue them over and over . In order to get Ems services or the fire department you must speak to a 911 operator . We make the least amount of money and we handle everything . We multitask times 1,000 . Yet when police officers make mistakes out in the field a 911 operator or dispatcher is blamed for their mistakes . We should never have to tell a police officer to secure the doors when they have a prisoner . If the prisoner escapes now it’s the 911 dispatchers fault . DC37 and 1549 need to get there act together before all 911 operators request to drop paying their dues !!!

  6. Jesinia Rivera says:

    I’ve been a 911 operator for 13 years…I can’t believe what i just read…The nerve of our Union President categorizing 911 operators in the same title as if we do the same job as 311 is appalling!…First and foremost our daily operations at the 911 center is to provide Courtesy, Professionalisms and Respect to our city and keep our city safe. We must go through an extensive line of medical, psychological exams. Then we have to go through a long training course to become operators…We must learn over 500 codes and procedures and after we master becoming an operator we must take another training course to become a dispatcher….When we graduate we must take an oath to our city….Now it takes a certain kind of individual to be able to have the ability to handle, maintain and execute a dispatch to law enforcement over the air under FCC regulations under heighten levels of transmissions over the air…As an individual 911 dispatcher/ operator your adrenaline is at 💯% when working for our 911 call center daily….We have to decipher transmission that could sound distorted during crazy weather or when the callers are in distress, not to mention the mental and physical toll it has on our bodies individually….Why dont we have a package deal to protect us from the distress this job does to our bodies?….Now this is why 911 should be held at a higher pedal stool then a clerical title or should not be categorized with 311…
    We (911 Operators/Dispatchers) are and will always be the life line of NYC…We are the heart beat that keeps NYPD Officers, FDNY, EMT running to those emergencies calls. Without 911 this city would be shut down…This Covid19 pandemic has proven how important 911 operators are to the city…Now granted 311 might have had alot of calls but its an information center!….911 is an emergency center and vital to our city…We should have been treated with the utmost importance when this pandemic hit….Just like hospitals, all 911 centers should have had PPE materials, plexiglass, scanning as soon as this pandemic hit…You can say we work closely with hospitals, law enforcement, Fire department, and EMS Ambulance…We are vital and we work in unison with each department…..We pay unions dues and our union should have made sure we were in the front lines to receive the materials we needed….Im not one to make waves but i was affected by this covid19 and im not happy about how it has turned out….We need first responders status and the benefits that come with it. And Eddie Rodriguez you can fight harder for us and do better!

  7. Cynthia Hill says:

    It is time for 911 operators to LEAVE 1549 They have never represented 911 Workers. It is time for Change and it must come from within 911.

  8. Anonymous and TIRED says:

    MR EDDIE RODRIGUEZ must be in a different planet . 911 and 311 are two totally different jobs . 911 is a number for those in need of medical emergencies, police response , fire emergencies . 311 is there when you need to make a noise complaint , a telephone number to a city agency . How dare he compare the two ? I am sure both agencies received a slew of calls during the height of the pandemic. If the pay is so bad and he can publicly admit it then give both agencies a bad raise . Do not down play both agencies they are both equally needed by those who call . As far as placing 400 officers to take 911 calls that’s incorrect . Where do these fake numbers come from ? If there were 400 officers taking calls the police department would have called a state of emergency internally a long time ago . DC37 and local 1549 need to fight for those whom pay their union dues . The mayor is taking about defunding the police but when 911 operators get written up there money goes to the police widow fund . Why has that not changed ? The chief of communications unfairly wants 911 operators to have there time and money taken away only to go back to police widows . How much common sense does that make ? The money should go back into a fund for 911 communications only. Every 911 operator and supervisor should be entitled to get a radio bonus every year . The chief of communications should have been transferred to another division due to the insurance scandal . But he still sits in his office with his high end suit . The system within itself is broken . When 911 operators or supervisors get promoted they stay in their same unit . How bogus is that ? As long as you are the chiefs friend you get to stay . All the power at communications needs a new reign . 911 within itself needs to fight back. 1549 is a joke they want your money but never help out those that are paying dues . Wake up people we need a real union and a real CHIEF

  9. anonymous says:

    311 AND 911 are not the same and should not be treated the same. Moreover, this article does not provide I clear distinction the problems each agency faces. This article is bad because 311 and 911 are mistreated in this article. 311 employees are equally dissatisfied with the article because 311 does not want to be confused with 911. It is disappointing that 311 get lumped-in with 911. 311 does not get recognized and compensated for their importance to the city because we do far more than just information.

    • Anonymous says:

      No one is downplaying 311 . It is an agency that is much needed . 911 and 311 should make more money PERIOD . Eddie Rodriguez is delusional on how he can compare two jobs that provide totally different resources to the public . I say stop paying your union dues . If the union leader can make such ill comments get rid of him and all of his staff .

      • Ye Li says:

        I am in total agreement . Why talk about not paying you’re paying union members ? What should be discussed is getting the titles more money . Make a better way for employees to provide for themselves and their family members . What a disgrace he is. 311 is a good job , but we gracefully ask for more money . We need to vote him out now !

  10. Anonymous and over it says:

    The union is definitely not protecting its members. 911 operators were forced back to work because there was an internal memo June 1 for civilians and uniform to return to work due to the protesting . So all of those who are out sick with Covid19, are back at work, SICK!!!! When does the union ever fight for its union members ??? NEVER !!! The police department took off asthma as a reasonable accommodation which was on a list by the federal government. So those whom were out have been forced to return to work. When does a city agency go above a federal agency ? NYPD is terrible to its civilian members. Why are they not an law suits against NYPD and the union ?? Wake up union members they only want your money but are not fighting for your basic safety .

  11. #311/911 UnionForever says:

    These respondents to the good article written come off very self-centered. They do not speak for the 911 people working now or retired from the NYPD. The article simply states a case for BOTH agency workers in 311 and 911 being deserving of recognition and proper pay for their essential work. The attacks on local union leaders offers NO evidence to back up their claims. It is obvious is all personal. In that respect it joins in with those who are trying to divide workers from the union and to destroy unions. Let the article speak for itself. It accurately depicts our work and value. I think the union leaders who took the time to be interviewed. They are helping us, unlike these respondents who offer nothing but vindictiveness.

    • 911 can I help you ? says:

      You must clearly work for the union . No one is being vindictive . 911 works hard period . I clearly can not speak for 311 . But I am sure they work hard as well . The point of the article is we all work hard but we are not payed out WORTH . If you are retired the you payed your dues . You can not speak for people whom are still working double shifts because of the horrible management which takes place at 911 . If you can publicly say they deserve more money 911 and 311 then pay them . And for personal attacks hmmm maybe your one of the union reps people are complaining about. 911 lost people due to covid . And will continue to lose people because they are being forced back to work . No one is dividing the workers but the union . We all need protection . Maybe you and them just don’t get it .

  12. A LOCAL LEADER says:

    Answering the Comments to this article:

    1- It is false to say that they complaintents “won” the lawsuit concerning representation. In fact there was an agreement for settlement due to the fact that the costs to DC 37 to fight it in court were much higher than what the settlement costed. .

    2- Local 1549 represents the 311 DOITT Call Center Representatives and never “compared” both 911 and 311 except to say that BOTH agency workers are Essential Workers and played a key role in serving the public during this COVID crisis and deserve both recognition and higher pay.

    3- Local 1549 under President Rodriguez and Ex VP Alma Roper have won many things for the 911 personnel. The lists include: Early Retirement benefits; forcing the NYPD to honor Paid Family Leave rights that were being denied; Uniform allowance; Increased staffing by 200; Recurring Increment Pay (longevity) for 911 personnel just to name a few. Our staff continues to defend our 911 personnel aggressively in disciplinary cases.

    4- During the COVID crisis our local leadership and DC 37 Director Henry Garrido met with Commissioner Shea and requested masks, temperature checks and plexiglass placement to help keep our members safer. We also handed out personal sanitizers and quality masks for their protection.

    5- We are currently pro-actively involved with our national union to make sure that the 911 personnel nationally become official First Responders by actively supporting the Torres/Klobuchar-Burr Bill in congress. We are supporting the state legislation also.

    In short the commentators are people who have personal axes to grind and not representative of the feelings of the 911 personnel in NYPD.

    President Rodriguez was re-elected to his position UNOPPOSED a year and a half ago. What does that tell you?

    We will continue to work with the members, chapter leaders and DC 37 staff to make sure that they continue to be represented properly as we have done in the past.

  13. Gladys Mitchell says:

    I was the police dispatcher on Sept 11, 2001. I mobilized the entire WTC area that day. I’ve been retired for 12 years. I have not been identified as the police dispatcher because the police department has wanted to keep me silent. They may have even denied my involvement on Sept 11 due to my advocate outspoken actions. I have sooooo much to say that I can’t put into writing now. Most comments are identified as anonymous because people are still working and afraid they will be retaliated against if the police department finds out they are speaking out. I’m retired so I have no more fear. I will tell it all with my name on it. Also DC37 needs to be defunded and brought up on needle to charges or whatever legal actions due to their none representation. Contact me and as so people have told me, this story hasn’t been told because I am the one to tell it. I will no longer be silenced.

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