MERIDEN — City officials hope wage increases included in a newly proposed three-year labor agreement with the city’s emergency dispatchers will help the city attract and retain employees.
The salary range Meriden has offered to its dispatchers in recent years has been lower than what many surrounding and comparable municipalities pay, according to Emergency Communications Director Doree Price.
The lower pay, in addition to the city no longer offering a pension plan for dispatchers, makes it harder for the city to attract and retain dispatchers for the dispatch center, which Price said is rarely at full staff.
“I would urge the council as a whole to approve that contract,” Price told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee at a meeting this month following a discussion about the center’s staffing difficulties.
“It does have raises in there,” Price continued, “but I will tell you that I continue to lose people to other agencies. And we’ve discussed this many times at the council meetings over the years, the city no longer has a pension plan, and I’m losing people to those places, not only to those places that offer a pension plan but that pay more than we do.”
The new contract would raise wages by 2 percent in each year of the three-year deal, which would be retroactive to July 1, 2019, and run through June 2022.
In addition to the 2 percent general wage increase, the contract also raises all dispatchers’ hourly rate by 50 cents in the second and third years of the contract, in what’s called an “equity adjustment.”
The contract was recently referred to the council’s Finance Committee, which will review the draft agreement at its regular meeting later this month and make a recommendation to the full council.
Republican councilor Dan Brunet, a Finance Committee member, said he plans to support the contract, which he said strikes a balance between making dispatchers pay more competitive and controlling costs. ‘What they’re worth’
Based on research the city compiled with the help of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the minimum salary that Meriden currently offers to dispatchers ranks 30th out of 38 municipalities, and the maximum salary ranks 31st.
Even if the contract gets approved, Meriden’s new minimum dispatcher salary of $47,714 annually would only move the city from 30th to 28th, and the city’s maximum salary of $56,816 would move from 31st to 30th based on the information compiled by CCM. Many of the towns Meriden ranks behind also offer a pension plan, according to CCM.
"If we care about them and we don’t want them working overtime, then we need to pay them what they’re worth. They make critical decisions every single day when they pick up that phone."
“We need to put our money where our mouth is,” Price told councilors at the Public Safety meeting. “If we care about them and we don’t want them working overtime, then we need to pay them what they’re worth. They make critical decisions every single day when they pick up that phone. They have somebody that’s trapped in a house during a fire, they have someone that’s trying to commit suicide, they have someone that’s either done it or is going to do it. They make those critical decisions all the time...”Staff shortage
Price made her remarks following a discussion with the committee about her dispatch center’s staffing levels in recent years. Price said that only 11 of the center’s 18 positions are currently filled, which means dispatchers often have to work long shifts to fill in the staffing gaps.
While five people are scheduled to begin training to become a dispatcher soon, Price only expects about two or three of them to ultimately stay on based on her past experiences because the job “isn’t for everyone.” One of her 11 current dispatchers is also scheduled to retire from the city soon, she added.
Democratic councilor Miguel Castro, a Finance Committee member, told Price at the public safety meeting that it’s concerning “knowing (dispatchers aren’t) compensated the way they should based on their abilities and capacities.”