By Bob Rakow
Emergency telecommunicators in Oak Lawn are willing to return to the bargaining table to negotiate an agreement that potentially would deter a proposal to replace them with an outsourced firm.
The village’s dispatchers on Monday voted to meet with village officials to discuss a contract extension and the cost-saving measures proposed by the village, said Ron Cicinelli, an attorney for the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, the union the represents the dispatchers.
“We’re going to see if we can come up with an agreement between the two parties,” Cicinelli said.
The union in late 2012 approved a contract with the village after a lengthy negotiation, Cicinelli said. The contract is set to expire in December 2014. The union is hopeful it could extend the contract through at least 2016, he said.
One month after the current contract was ratified, the village asked the union to consider cost-saving measures, including deferring the 2.5 percent wage increase included in the contract, regular pay for overtime hours, hiring part-time dispatchers and changing the wage scale for new employees, Cicinelli said.
The union overwhelmingly opposed the proposal and filed an unfair labor practice grievance with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, which was rejected. The union appealed the decision, and the village has responded, Cicinelli said.
Village Manager Larry Deetjen said the cost-saving measures previously proposed by the village are no longer on the table. He added that he had not been notified as of Tuesday afternoon of the union’s desire to negotiate.
Deetjen said he has entered “earnest” discussions with an outside firm to assume the village’s dispatching services.
Village trustees recently gave Deetjen the authority to negotiate with two national dispatching firms to operate the emergency dispatch center, which handles fire, police and ambulance calls for Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Burbank and Bridgeview.
The center also handles fire department calls for Bedford Park and a portion of the Central Stickney Fire Protection District.
“The action of the board was very, very clear,” Deetjen said. “We’re talking millions of dollars. Our partners want us to drive the costs down.”
Cicinelli said the union would sue the village if it replaces dispatchers with an outsourced firm.
Deetjen said the potential move is not a reflection on the performance of the current dispatchers.
Rather, the dispatch center is facing mounting expenses, which could cause some of its customers to leave. He added that if any of the towns the village serves choose another dispatch service, Oak Lawn would be forced to lay off dispatchers.
The dispatchers do not believe that Deetjen’s decision to explore outside firms is a bluff, Cicinelli said.
“The whole atmosphere at (Monday’s meeting) was tense,” he said. “Obviously, this is a very serious decision. You cannot go on the assumption that anyone is bluffing here. It’s a serious concern.”
Kathy Hansen, the village’s director of emergency communications, said the center is losing revenue as more people eliminate land phone lines in favor of cell phones. The village receives $1 per a month from customers with land lines. It only receives 58 cents a month from cell phone users, Hansen said.