A tearful Julie Miller stood outside the Oak Lawn Village Board chambers Tuesday night and talked about the critical role the village’s emergency telecommunicators play in the safety of her husband, an Oak Lawn police officer.
“They’re part of our family,” said Miller, whose husband, Dan, is a 17-year veteran of the police department. “The 911 dispatchers…are his lifeline. I mean, when he leaves my house, his life is in their hands, literally, and they make sure he comes home to me at night safely.”
The village board voted 4-2 to privatize 911 call center dispatch services, a move that could save the village $1 million over two years, Village Manager Larry Deetjen said.
Norcomm Public Safety Communications will assume dispatching services for the village and the other communities it serves. Oak Lawn dispatchers will have the opportunity to apply for their old jobs.
Ron Cicinelli, an attorney for the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, the union the represents the dispatchers, said the union would sue the village if it replaces dispatchers with an outsourced firm.
Miller said a private company will be unable to match the overall “professionalism and loyalty” exhibited over the years by the village’s dispatchers. She said Norcomm dispatchers will not be as familiar with the village or its police officers and firefighters.
“When he gets a call from them, they get as much description as possible before he goes anywhere and for that I am forever grateful. They are wonderful at their jobs. It’s a shame. It is a shame,” Miller said.
Trustees Bob Streit and Carol Quinlan voted against the proposal.
“Oak Lawn has always been a place where residents could count on their public servants,” Streit said. “The system has been working for years. We don’t need to make a change.”
Streit added that the initial savings the village will realize as a result of outsourcing will “evaporate over time.”
Trustee Terry Vorderer, a former Oak Lawn police officer, said approving the outsourcing was “the toughest vote in his political career.”
“I agonized over this vote,” said Vorderer, who added that he holds out hope for an agreement between the village and the dispatchers.
Cicinelli asked Mayor Sandra Bury to delay the vote and form a board committee to meet with union in an attempt to avoid outsourcing.
“I want all of you to understand that privatizing your public-sector services is not the answer,” Cicinelli said. “Once you vote to privatize, it’s very difficult to come back.”
He said that as emergency communications technology advances, it would difficult for the village to resume emergency dispatch services at a later time.
“Once you rely on the private corporation, you will become their hostage,” he said.
Several dispatchers and their supporters packed the board room and asked the board to reconsider the move, saying that an outsourced company will not provide the same level service as the village dispatchers.
The Metropolitan Alliance of Police approved a contract with the village in late 2012 after a lengthy negotiation, Cicinelli said. The contract is set to expire in December 2014. The union was 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 cost-saving measures 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.
Oak Lawn dispatchers handles fire, police and ambulance calls for Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Burbank and Bridgeview. They also handle fire department calls for Bedford Park and a portion of the Central Stickney Fire Protection District.
Deetjen has said the dispatch center was facing mounting expenses, which could increase if some of its customers left. He added that if any of the towns the village serves choose another dispatch service, Oak Lawn would be forced to lay off dispatchers.