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Erie County's 911 dispatchers seek extension of 12-hour shifts

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Michael Mroziak, WBFO
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The union representing 911 call dispatchers for Erie County's Central Police Services say they'd like to continue using a 12-hour work shift format that began as a trial nearly six months ago. They stated their case Thursday morning before the Erie County Legislature's Public Safety Committee.

The trial format began last fall and is set to expire at the end of May. Under the 12-hour work format, employees will work blocks of two or three days and be assured two extended weekends every month. Under their previous schedule, employees would work eight-hour shifts but many did so for seven days straight and then, after two days off, work seven or eight more.

"Low morale, forced overtime, excessive sick time use," said dispatcher Sheila Ayer, when asked about the problems caused by the previous format.

The union representing dispatchers, CSEA Local 815 Erie Unit, told legislators on the Public Safety Committee that since implementing the 12-hour format, morale has increased while overtime and use of sick time has decreased. CSEA Local 815 President Denise Szymura said it has also cut down on burnout and helped dispatchers stay sharp for their high-pressure roles.

"One of the major concerns is we were probably not getting the information we needed, probably not getting out the information as fast as we could have, because you just can't," she said. "Your body shuts down. Your mind shuts down. And then you think 'I've got to get home and I've got to do this because I've been at work for eight days and now I'm on my third or fourth.' It was very, very difficult."

Edward Rath III is among legislators who are more than willing to extend the 12-hour format. Union rank and file are expecting to vote on an extension shortly after the trial run expires. Rath said once the expected 'yes' vote occurs, contracts will be reworked to cover the format.

One of the benefits he sees in keeping workers satisfied is simply keeping them within CPS. He, and other supporters, hope to curb the rate of turnover within the department.

"We train these employees and, sometimes, we get them just to where we want them and then they leave Erie County to go help out Amherst or other communities," Rath said. "Unfortunately we lose good employees, so if we approve these work requirements and these work rules and work hours, they're going to stay and be with us for a long time."

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