Arbitrator sides with city in dispute
Dispatchers union filed grievance
A fact-finding panel has sided with the city of Porterville in a grievance filed by one of its unions over providing emergency dispatch services to the cities of Woodlake and Lindsay, according to a report made public Tuesday.
In the grievance the Operating Engineers Local Union No. 3, which represents a bargaining unit containing six to seven city dispatchers, claimed that by the city providing emergency dispatch services to Woodlake and Lindsay, Porterville dispatchers had to take on a heavier workload.
On Aug. 30, 2012, the union declared an impasse on the issues and the two sides agreed to take the case to the three-member fact-finding panel. On the panel is arbitrator Robert Bergeson, city representative Shelling Bennett and union representative Clayton Dignam.
According to the report, the union argued that though the city’s contract with Woodlake was terminated on Oct. 1 — five months after the Porterville City Council OK’d the consolidated dispatch — dispatchers still performed some additional duties during that time for which they were not compensated.
“To think that these additional duties from the Lindsay contract will not have an effect on [dispatchers] is ludicrous at best,” the union’s position portion of the report states. The same portion said the union asked dispatchers to come forward and provide testimony to the panel, but “those who wanted to talk clearly indicated that they were afraid of retaliation” by management.
The report further states the union was asking for a 5 percent salary increase to compensate for the additional work and argued that the city’s contention that its financial position to fund such an increase was “disingenuous.” The union also argued that the city should ensure that part timers are not being used to “supplant” full-time dispatchers.
The city previously said a study it performed showed the impact on dispatchers of taking on a small amount of work from Lindsay resulted on an average of two additional calls per hour during the relevant times.
“To address the small number of additional calls, the city has been utilizing part-time dispatchers until a limited-term, full-time dispatcher can be hired for the duration of the contract with Lindsay,” the report states.
In the meantime, the city paid full-time dispatchers a 5 percent bonus during the time they were needed to train part-timers, the report said.
The city also said that the union’s contention the city is “flush with money” to increase the salary of all dispatchers was without merit and said that at the end of the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the city had a deficit of $1.6 million, and as a result has been in concession bargaining with all unions.
Under the analysis and recommendation portion of the fact-finding report, the panel states the union attempted to rebut the city’s study on purported additional work by presenting them with emails from full-time dispatchers about the impact.
The problem with the emails, the report states, is they are hearsay evidence, which cannot be cross-examined by the city. The panel also states that when members are unable or unwilling to stand up for themselves, the union can do little on their behalf.
Even if there was some impact on the workload of full-time dispatchers as a result of the city’s contract with Lindsay, evidence shows that it’s minimal and neutralized by part-time dispatchers.
The city’s financial situation is not “as rosy as the union argues” the report states. Even if it were, providing a salary increase would, at a minimum, result in questions from other employee groups as to why they have not been accorded to such consideration, the report states.
To conclude, the panel states that it cannot recommend anything which would alleviate a problem it cannot find to exist.
“The core essence of it is they didn’t do a real good job of telling what they wanted because they couldn’t show the impact,” Porterville City Manager John Lollis said.
“It’s a real simple issue here. The work of dispatchers increases when they take on two other cities; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that,” said Doug Gorman, the union’s labor representative.
Gorman said he plans to attend a public hearing on the matter, scheduled before the City Council at its next regular meeting Feb. 19.
At that meeting, the council will either approve, reject or ask to modify the fact-finding report.
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, Ext. 1047. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseMadrid_.