South Portland, dispatchers agree to contract

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SOUTH PORTLAND — After more than three years in the making, city officials and emergency dispatchers have come to terms on an employment contract.

The negotiations began in 2007 when South Portland and Portland agreed to consolidate their public safety dispatch services to comply with a state mandate.

City Manager Jim Gailey said the negotiations stretched three years and three human resource directors.

“This is almost a monumental night,” Gailey said Monday. “(The contract) is the culmination of years of work.”

The contract, which runs retroactive from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2012, covers 12 dispatchers currently employed by South Portland. 

Dispatchers will receive $750 payment for 2009, a 1.5 percent increase for 2010 and 1 percent raise next year. The contract will cost the city $9,350 in fiscal 2010, $20,900 in fiscal 2011 and $41,000 in fiscal 2012.

South Portland and Portland dispatchers will work in Portland and be supervised by Portland’s emergency communications manager once the merger is complete.

Those hired after the merger will work under the terms of Portland’s collective bargaining agreement.

Gailey said he expects the merger will take place over the next few months to allow for a smooth transition and time for South Portland dispatchers to learn Portland’s system.

Human Resources Director Don Brewer said in a memo to the council that each community will bear a per capital cost for operating the dispatch center. South Portland’s facility will be retained for training and as a back-up facility, he said.

Brewer said Portland and South Portland had originally agreed to merge while operating both dispatch centers. But the recent economic downturn led the state to require further consolidation, he said.

The state approved South Portland’s plan to operate out of Portland in November 2010, he said.

Gailey said the city was “very fortunate” to be able to partner with Portland, rather than join the Cumberland County dispatch center; the latter was not recommended by the police and fire chiefs.

Brewer said the contract addresses issues such as seniority, work hours, benefits and specialty pay, stipends and night shift differentials.

It also establishes a grievance procedure for employees to appeal their boss’s actions to a Dispatch Board of Governance, comprised of three representatives from Portland and three from South Portland.

On Monday, Councilor Tom Blake, who worked as a South Portland firefighter and paramedic for 27 years, said he is glad that an agreement had been reached.

“I know there is not much worse in life than working without a binding contract,” Blake said.

Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis, who as a teacher led contract negotiations, said she believes the negotiations were civil and respectful, since city officials and dispatchers were not seated on opposite sides of the room.

“I’m glad to see you all sitting in the same row,” De Angelis said. “That isn’t always the case.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

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