Local 1085 Salem County workers are fighting back against a dangerous proposal to privatize the County’s 911 dispatching services and the nursing staff at the Salem County Correctional Facility. The proposal by the Salem County Freeholders threatens to outsource the jobs of 35 emergency call center dispatchers and 15 nurses in the County jail in a half-baked attempt to plug a hole in the County budget.
Privatizing Salem County’s dispatch services not only threatens to destroy the middle-class jobs in order to seek minimal cost savings, it threatens public safety for residents of Salem County. CWA members in the call center are the first one County residents calling 911 speak to. Many live in Salem County and know the neighborhoods where they are dispatching emergency help and have built relationships with local police, fire, and EMS forces. The county’s privatization proposal thrusts dedicated, trained and experienced union workers into unemployment, replacing them with workers with fewer qualifications and little experience.
The private company being considered to take over 911 operations is asking for exceptions in their bid for minimum experience requirements and staffing numbers. Salem County requires all 911 dispatchers to have a minimum of one year of experience. The company wants to be able to recruit and hire individuals with less than one year of experience. Present county requirements for personnel include providing 9 personnel for each of shift, while the company only wants to comply with 6 personnel. That is a third fewer people answering emergency calls for the entire county. Salem County is also home to one of the largest nuclear power plants in the United States. Workers have experience running drills for the nuclear power plant. The private company has no experience at running a dispatch center in any community that houses a nuclear power plant and will be unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with and a potential nuclear emergency.
To make matters worse, Salem County Freeholders recently proposed an alternative to the outsourcing which includes outrageous concessions on wages for union workers. Their proposals demand that either all workers — those represented by CWA and other county employee unions — agree to a salary cut of 3 percent, or just CWA-represented workers take a pay cut of 9.8 percent ,or just 911 dispatch and jail medical staff take a salary cut of 28.9 percent. This means the County’s proposed 2016 budget would be balanced on the backs of workers.
CWA alongside county union workers and residents have been building a robust grassroots campaign to save dispatching services and the nursing jobs. The last four Freeholder meetings have been packed with CWA members, county union workers, first responders and residents out to voice their opposition to the outsourcing. At the last meeting, Freeholders unexpectedly tabled the budget that contained the cuts to the dispatchers and nurses that necessitated the privatization.
Members have also flooded the Freeholders phone lines with calls against the measure. Blue and white yard signs that read, “Say No To Outsourcing, Keep Nurses/9-1-1 Jobs In Salem County” have also popped up. County residents have also taken to social media to mobilize other residents in opposition to the privatization deal. Nearly 4,000 supporters have joined the “Supporting Salem County 911 Dispatchers” Facebook group in just one month.
CWA will continue to mobilize against the continued threat to these jobs. The Freeholder Director is up for election this November, and CWA members promise not only to make their voice heard at the meetings, but also at the ballot box.