2017-02-23 / Front Page

Dispatchers move toward unionization

Affects 10 county employees
By Eric Carlson
Of The Enterprise staff

Dispatchers in Leelanau County’s 9-1-1 Emergency Management department are considering unionizing.

County officials as well as a spokesman for the dispatchers confirmed Wednesday morning that the 10 county dispatchers will vote next month on whether to form a union.

County administrator Chet Janik said county officials were notified this week of the move.

The 9-1-1 dispatchers are considering joining the Police Officers Association of Michigan – the same union that represents road patrol deputies in the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office.

Local dispatchers are to be provided a ballot by March 9 that they must return to the union by March 23. Officials said a decision whether to unionize will likely be announced March 24.

If the dispatchers unionize, they will become part of a trend that has emerged in recent years of emergency responders throughout Leelanau County joining unions. Sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers have been unionized for many years. Firefighters and emergency medical personnel from all jurisdictions other than Elmwood Township have formed unions or are in the process of doing so.

The county’s 9-1-1 dispatchers, should the vote be successful, will be among the last county employees to unionize. Most county workers below department head and deputy department head levels are union members. Most of the county’s clerical employees are members of the Teamsters Union.

Emergency dispatchers are already unionized in many other areas of Michigan, including in neighboring Grand Traverse County.

The director of the Leelanau County Emergency Management Department, Matt Ansorge, said he and his chief deputy, Bill Parker, have remained “out of the loop” on the effort by their subordinates to join a union.

However, Ansorge added he is confident morale in his department is good. If dispatchers do unionize, it will have little to no effect on the service they provide or how they interact with the public, he added.

Ansorge said he understood that one issue dispatchers may seek to resolve through unionization is the configuration of their regular pay periods. Currently, their job classification through the county’s payroll system is “clerical,” which means they operate on a 40-hour work week. That arrangement affects how much overtime pay they can accrue in one week.

“The issue is that we have people on duty 24/7 and not every week is the same in terms of the number of hours they work,” Ansorge explained. “If their pay period was divided into an 80-hour pay period, they would be able to take better advantage of the overtime pay they’re due. But under state law, this kind of change can only be made through a union contract.”

Dispatcher Christine Hauser said she had been designated to act as spokesman for fellow dispatchers as the unionization effort moves forward. She said she would not be able to offer public comment until after March 23, when she and her peers have all cast their ballots on the unionization proposal.

Hauser did acknowledge the dates the voting will occur as well as the fact that an 80-hour pay period and overtime issues were among the issues dispatchers hoped to resolve by unionizing.

Suttons Bay-Bingham, Cedar Area and Glen Lake Fire and Rescue Departments have been unionized for some time.

More recently, unions were formed to represent emergency personnel with Leelanau Township, and firefighters in Leland Township have voted to unionize. Negotiations are still underway toward contract approval by the Leland Township Board.

Among fire departments in Leelanau County, only emergency personnel in Elmwood Township have not unionized. The Elmwood Township Fire Department is currently undergoing a revitalization with passage of a millage, hiring fulltime emergency responders to provide 24-hour service.

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