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Debate over 911 dispatchers' sickout

July 12, 2010 | 12:27 pm

Reports about a sickout by 911 operators in Los Angeles have drawn more than 80 comments from readers. Many of the initial comments, such as these, were critical of the employees:

TK: If a single call was missed, charge them all with obstructing justice.

Gary: Fire every one of those people. Hey civil servants welcome to our private sector world.

BLM: I guess being grateful for having a job in this economy is just not enough, especially if you're a union employee. Shame on them!!!!

LAPD dispatcher Luisa Goodwin was stung by the comments but felt that omissions in the article were to blame. She gives her side of the story in a Blowback column on latimes.com/opinion, which begins: 

The headline on Andrew Blankstein's article on July 3, " LAPD's 911 operators stage a sickout," has a glaring omission: The sickout was not the idea of dispatchers who work for the Communications Division. I know because I am one.

While some of those employees participated, this sickout was staged and directed by the Coalition of LA City Unions. It focused on a wide range of city workers in danger of being furloughed or laid off, not just dispatchers. It is unfair for Blankstein to lay the blame on our shoulders alone.

Goodwin is able to give a great deal of insight into conditions at the city’s 911 call centers and conveys the strong feelings of dispatchers such as herself. The article, on the other hand, is a dispassionate account of a news event.

It’s the newspaper’s job to report on newsworthy events and to generate discussion. Blankstein wrote that the sickout occurred. And that led to discussion -- which continues more than a week later.

Blankstein responded, "The fact remains that 50% of the dispatchers who handle emergency police calls did not show up for one of the shifts. These are not your average city employees. They are on the front lines of helping police safeguard public safety. That's why their work action merited a story in the L.A. Times and why the readers reacted so strongly. The issue of furloughs or layoffs of city employees is also important, and one that the paper has repeatedly covered."

Commenters were sympathetic to the dispatchers as well:

Ryan: You can't just hire someone off the street and make them a 911 operator. That's like making just anyone a police officer. … The problem is with money management. The city needs to … put what resources they have into the basic necessities of civil service.

That 9-1-1 Operator: I am a Dispatcher who was just ordered to work for the Federal Minimum Wage rate of $7.25 an hr until there is a State budget !!! I am very blessed to have a job, but won't be able to survive financially !! I'm glad LAPD PSR's had a sick out !

Goodwin concludes her column by affirming her colleagues’ commitment to the job:

In the end, while perhaps controversial, this sickout has finally brought to light the challenges the city's dispatchers face and how they will effect the public. ... I write this in the hope that the public will ignore the negative light this article has thrust us into, and instead see that we are grateful employees and dedicated to the city of Los Angeles, her officers and her citizens.

-- Deirdre Edgar

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