music in the park san jose

.Hard Bargains: San Jose Comes Down to the Wire With City Employee Contracts

music in the park san jose

June is a big decision month for City Hall, and it’s not just about the city of San Jose’s 2023-24 budget. The storm clouds on the horizon center on the city’s contract with its largest employee union, which expires at the end of the month.

The budget vote was this week, and it represented the first big test for Mayor Matt Mahan—whether he could get a council majority to approve his plan to reallocate some affordable housing money to boost “rapid-build” interim housing construction or stick with the previous council majority’s “housing first” strategy.

The mayor waged a vigorous public campaign for his policy shift with rallies and invitations to council meetings to push his election campaign promise to address the immediate needs of the city’s unhoused residents.

While this public debate has been going on, behind the scenes in City Hall a potentially more dramatic scenario is playing out.

The city last week announced with enthusiasm tentative agreements with three bargaining units, but the unions representing police dispatchers, building inspectors and park rangers account for a little more than just 7% of the employees whose contracts end June 30.

Negotiations with the city’s biggest municipal employee union, the Municipal Employees Federation AFSCME, Local 101—which represents about 70 percent of this year’s nearly 3,500 workers whose contracts expire at the end of the month—are continuing.

On April 26, the union said the city was “willfully tone-deaf” and does not understand “the dire situation that our recruitment and retention problems create for our jobs and services we provide the public.” In the next month, things improved only slightly.

On May 31, the city gave the union’s bargaining team a counter proposal that included a quarter of a percent (0.25%) movement from their last proposal for a three-year contract at 3.5%, 3.25% and 3%. On June 7, the two sides reached agreement on a number of contract issues, but the salary question is still on the table.

The union pledged to “remain firm.”

“It’s clear we will have to take the future of public services in San Jose into our own hands since city leadership remains so inept at it,” the union told its members on its website.

The city’s tentative agreements with the three unions representing 265 employees include pay raises greater than that offered in April to the AFSCME local: 5% the first year, 4% the second and 3% the third, plus “special salary adjustments to bring certain classifications to market which will assist with the city’s ongoing recruitment and retention efforts,” plus 160 hours of fully paid parental leave.

“These agreements are a victory for both the city and our workers,” San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said in a statement. “We’re being fair to our employees and our residents together, giving workers the wages they deserve and residents the services they need.”

The city did not put a price tag on those wage packages, but an additional 2% added to a 3% increase for all employees would add millions to the city payroll.

It remains to be seen whether the 5-4-3 three-year formula will be the city’s contract offers to the other unions—the Association of Engineers and Architects, IFPTE, Local 21, the Association of Maintenance Supervisory Personnel, IFPTE Local 21, the City Association of Management Personnel, IFPTE, Local 21, or the Municipal Employees’ Federation (with its 2,400 members)—or if the unions will accept the formula accepted by the three smaller unions.

The city’s newest labor union, representing 160 police dispatchers, was happy with its first contract.

“We are appreciative of the collaborative and transparent negotiation that we engaged in with the city,” said Mary Tomlinson, president of the San Jose Police Dispatchers Association. “As a new union, this was the first contract we negotiated and we want to commend the professionalism and transparency of the city team. We look forward to further collaboration as we work to improve San Jose’s public safety infrastructure.”

Contracts with city firefighters and operating engineers expire next year, and the police union’s contract runs out in 2025.

barry holtzclaw, managing editor sanjoseinside
Barry Holtzclawhttp://sanjoseinside.com/
Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with Weeklys Publishing since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.

37 COMMENTS

  1. I can guarantee the citizens of San Jose are unaware of the dire straits that the San Jose Fire Department’s 9-1-1 center is in due to critically low staffing.- we are still part of MEF and we will not be settling for 3.25%. We’ve tried negotiating in good faith with the Director of HR/OER and we got nowhere. She knew that we were and still are facing a staffing crisis and we still went without a hiring process for over a year. We are budgeted for 30.5 dispatchers and we only have 17.5 ….. for a city of over a million people, that number should be higher. Our job is to answer medical and fire-related emergency calls, provide pre-arrival instructions (CPR instructions, provide instructions for chilbirth, instructions for rescue breathing or performing the Heimlich Maneuver on a person choking — those are just the a few medical instructions we provide. For fire-related calls, we instruct people on how to protect themselves if trapped in a burning building, how to handle gas leaks, what to do in a storm or for downed power lines— and that is just scratching the surface on what we do), dispatch appropriate equipment to each call and always ensure the safety of field personnel. We are making 20% less than the County of Santa Clara and we can in no way compete with the pay offered by the city of Santa Clara. What that boils down to is that these agencies, cities and departments understand that recruitment and retention requires more than “We’re the city of San Jose, so you should want to work here”. Those days are long gone, especially after Measure B. The city workers work hard for less pay—— working for San Jose has nothing unique to draw candidates in. The retirement package was thinned out. The benefits package is nothing special (but having benefits is always good), no stock options, no bonuses…the mayor and city council are going to have to get creative because if we lose more of our dispatchers, the citizens will indoubtedly feel it through long call wait times or by not getting pre-arrival instructions for a loved one that needs help. San Jose needs to do better.

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  2. The job as a fire dispatcher is definitely rewarding. However the staffing that is being retained due to the staffing crisis and lack of hiring process makes enjoying the job hard. As a single mother the wages make it extremely hard to live in this very expensive city. Along with the lack of acknowledgement by not only the mayor but the people involved with our negotiations is quite frankly disgusting.
    The little they feel is necessary to “appease” such an important force in the city I was born and raised in as well as my own child is not enough.
    The staffing crisis is nearly at half, half of the mandatory positions are filled. With no open hiring process, just a very limited window of open hiring. Which is not enough.
    Emergency dispatch is needed whether or not you have had to use our help or know someone who has. We are needed. We are in dire need of change and assistance from the city of San Jose.
    If there isn’t a change soon, there may come a point where we may refuse to work the mandated overtime to preserve our physical and mental health.

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  3. San Jose fire dispatch staffing is so low that we are all at a breaking point. We are working on all of our weekends. We work 12-14 hour days. We work for 20 percent less than surrounding cities. We deal with mental health trauma every day but are not getting aid since “we just hear it.” Our bodies are breaking down from the constant changes in sleep (what little we can get) because we often work on shifts that are not our own. We don’t see our families or friends. What incentive is the city giving for any of us to stay if they’re not hiring anyone to help us? San Jose needs to help us! We, as well as the citizens, deserve better! Imagine you need help with CPR (like my father once did) and there is no dispatcher available to help you?! It could be your loved one. Help us!

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    • The overtime is worsened when one of us end up getting sick because our immune systems are shot from the lack of rest needed to keep us healthy. We are human, we also have things going on in our lives. We have babies, we have family deaths, we have energencies that require us to miss work. Who do you think fills in for those absences? Those of us left are filling those absences. Does our City Council or Mayor or HR/OER Director think that our lives are only dedicated to our jobs?

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  4. San Jose Fire dispatchers provide a critical service to the citizens in need during their most vulnerable time. This includes providing medical instructions to assist the caller’s family members while responders are driving to their location. A major problem the dispatchers are currently experiencing is the lack of staffing. Dispatchers are forced to work hundreds of hours of overtime due to the staffing levels at around 55%. They are not allowed to refused this overtime, so they have less time with their family and no work life balance. This leads to health issues and forces more dispatcher to seek employment elsewhere. The reason for this staffing problem is because their wages, benefits, and schedules are not competitive with the surrounding areas. This leads to a lower number of applicants and less employee retention. The staffing problems are getting worse and this is detrimental to the services provided to the citizens of San Jose. Imagine if your love ones need help and there are not enough medical dispatchers to answer the call.

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  5. I don’t think that the community is aware of the severe staffing crisis in Fire Dispatch. Our standards are high, our calls are randomly checked weekly for compliance, and we provide life saving instructions. I’d say just about every single one of us has either guided a childbirth over the phone or has saved a life by providing CPR instructions over the phone. We do all of this with lower pay than our counterparts in the county. Our small staff serves over a million people and due to low staffing, we work 12-14 hour days most of our work week with no relief in sight. We need to increase our pay, retirement, and other benefits so that we can compete with other agencies and be able to better provide services for the community we serve. Most of the time we only have 2 dispatchers able to take 911 calls as we are also radio dispatchers and have major events to cover. Believe me with a city this large, there are more than 2 people needing assistance from FIRE/EMS at a time. Help us staff up so that we can help more people.

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    • The way the city treats our emergency personel is frankly disgusting. How can they accept that having only two people to answer fire and medical 911 calls for a city of over a million people as satisfactory? The city’s response every time the dispatchers strugle to maintain minimum staffing is to reduce minimum staffing. There is no more reductions that can be done, people already can sit on hold for several minutes because there is just nobody to answer the phones while they’re already helping other people. This is 100% on the city management, and they will be responsible when someone dies because they were on hold with 911 unable to receive the aid they needed

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  6. San Jose Fire Communications has been critically understaffed for over a decade. The mental and physical toll of working 8-14 hours a day, 5-7 days a week is burning us out. Our bodies and minds suffer, our families suffer. Exceptional dispatchers, who take a full year to train not including the City of San Jose’s archaic hiring process which can take up to a year itself, have quit because they choose their wellbeing and families over this. We are being mandated to work overtime EVERY SINGLE DAY. For YEARS. We let down our families and friends, we cancel doctor appointments, we go without sleep. We develop PTSD and chronic injuries that cripple us. We listen to people take their last breaths as their family beg for help to hurry up and then immediately afterwards have to explain to another caller why we don’t send fire crews to get cats out of trees. If we’re lucky, we get a break to go to the bathroom. But if it’s too busy, we don’t. We don’t have enough dispatchers. Not enough dispatchers answering the phones. Not enough dispatchers to monitor radio channels. San Jose keeps growing, but there are fewer fire dispatchers to serve the community. STAFF UP SAN JOSE!

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  7. The City of San Jose used to be a great government to work for, with the best competitive pay, best benefits, and best retirement packages. But that all changed 15 years ago when they gutted all of that away and allowed wages to stagnate. Currently, the city is currently being held together like a house of cards because staffing levels across the city are the lowest they’ve ever been with well over 1,000 unfilled positions, due in large part to the stagnated wages. Our neighboring agencies – like Milpitas, Santa Clara City, Santa Clara County, and Mountain View – offer 20-40% better wages for comparable jobs across the board, yet the City’s bargaining team can only offer us 3.5% wage increase?! That is effectively a pay cut for the entire city with this year’s inflation running at 8-9%. San Jose needs to do better, Staff Up, and reevaluate their place in the local market and become more competitive.

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  8. Our Fire Dispatchers deserve better, this “increase” is NOT competitive with other 911 centers in the Bay Area and will not keep up with inflation. Our dispatchers are having to work 12 to 14 hour shifts to maintain minimum staffing because it’s impossible to recruit and retain people. We loose them to other cities that have higher pay and better benefits.

    This is an incredibly challenging job, our dispatchers are dealing with life or death situations daily. They give life saving medical/fire instructions and ensure the safety of our field personnel. It takes a massive toll on your body, mental and emotional health, and relationships, especially if you’re having to work back-to-back 12 hour shifts. Imagine missing out on birthdays, holidays, and special events with your loved ones with no end in sight because the City of San Jose refuses to accept that the current pay rate is too low. That’s what our Fire Communications dispatchers have been going through for years and it has to end.

    If we loose anymore of our staff, San Jose citizens will feel it. The City needs to step up and give people a reason to stay. Help us help you! STAFF UP SAN JOSE!!!

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    • Thank you for adding to what we have said. While some may think, “This is what you chose”, I say, “Working myself to the point of pain is not what I signed up for”. When we receive emails from the City Manager advised city employees to “Take care of yourself by having a good work-life balance” is tone-deaf and a slap in the face. She apparently is not aware of our staffing crisis. I was thinking about last year and it’s a blur. I spent 450 more hours of my life working overtime. I had to get a trade with a co-worker to attend the funeral of my best friend’s dad even though I have a sufficient amount of sick time to use.

      Mayor Mahan, if you are reading this, the city needs to do better.

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  9. Currently, more than 25% of ALL classifications in the City have a vacancy rate of 25% or higher. Over 160 job classifications have a 10% or higher vacancy rate. Fire Dispatchers vacancy rate exceed all. The City recently gave AFSCME-MEF its “last, best and final” offer, too embarrassed to share. Nothing in the “final offer” addressed the extreme staffing shortages, especially in Fire Dispatch. Nor did the City address the recruitment and retention issues city wide and the crumbling public safety and community services put at risk as a result. We are an accident waiting to happen, we need the City to step up, and staff up San Jose, do the right thing for a change!

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  10. San Jose Fire Dispatchers are critically under staffed. They not only give life saving instructions to San Jose residents and keep our fire fighters safe. They also are the after hours for public works(water main breaks, trash in the road, signal lights not working etc). Because of the low staffing one 911 calltaker then is not available to take an emergency call. At times this means there is one 911 calltaker available to take medical and fire emergency calls for a city of over a million people. This is not acceptable.

    We lack recruiting and retention because the pay is not comparable to other agencies in our area. We can’t afford to live in the city we work for. We go through a year of training and it is not easy. It is a rigorous process that a trainee goes through. There are high expectations and standards that must be met to ensure the citizens of the city get the best care.

    Fire communications is dedicated to the citizens to ensure that they are getting the best dispatchers to help them on their worst day. We are proud of the services we offer the citizens and fire fighters. We are also being over worked with the mandatory overtime being created by the lack of staffing, retention and recruiting.

    My family is always shocked when I don’t have overtime attached to my shift or when I don’t have to work part of my weekend. All dispatchers are working 3-5 shifts with over time attached each week. This means we are working 12-14 hour shifts. We work 5 days a week(which is unusual in this industry).

    My mental and physical health have been impacted because of the prolonged staffing shortage.

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  11. My last days are numbered! I feel sorry for those who will be sticking around. SJ Fire Dispatch employee morale is at an all time low and I’ve been there over 20 years. The overwhelming overtime and work load has taken its toll mentally and physically. Most dispatchers actually now have an eye twitch due to stress and a lack of sleep. I am now blessed with high blood pressure. Thanks City of San Jose! I’ve seen our new hires leave time after time due to seeing our work load and our actual work hours first hand. I’ve seen one choose to go back to work at the Winchester Mystery House! Our pay for the amount of work we do just doesn’t cut it. After measure B our job is no longer considered a career due to the lack of benefits and lowered pensions with NO social security. Pay a fair wage to save the few dispatchers we will have left because I will not be one of them.

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  12. It’s a major liability having us 9-1-1 fire and medical dispatchers work this much overtime trying to cover our 43% vacancy rate. We’re in charge of sending help to all the medical and fire emergencies in the city, giving CPR and baby delivery instructions over the phone, and keeping countless firefighters safe and accounted for on large fire events. However, we don’t have enough employees to staff this 24/7 establishment. When will the city realize it’s not doing nearly enough to recruit and retain its employees? The pay raise they’re offering us is disrespectful. The citizens deserve someone available to take their emergency call and not to wait on hold until help arrives. The dispatchers deserve to feel appreciated and be able to afford to live in the city they serve.

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  13. San Jose Fire Dispatch has been at a critically low staffing level for well over a year possibly even 2 years or more. To say I’m “Burnt out” is an understatement. I have now turned to updating my resume and started looking to other jobs and careers. I have been with San Jose Fire Communications for 8 years, dispatching 9-1-1 for 18 years, this is the absolute worst I have ever experienced. Yes, we know there will be overtime, that’s to be expected; Not 60+ hours a week, every week for over a year! That’s abuse and neglect. That’s negligence on our management and the city to recruit effectively. The foreseeability was always there! Retirements, others stating they were leaving and looking …… yet nothing done to be proactive. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen. We are working ourselves sick. To the point beyond exhaustion. The City of San Jose need to Step Up & Staff Up!! They also need to take a really close look at their management to see what been lacking and where changes need to be made. Wage increases are just the tip of the iceberg. Figure it out San Jose.

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  14. It’s hard to choose the most important points to share with the citizens of San Jose, that my co-workers haven’t already shared. We are tired, we are working countless hours without appreciation or care. Our morale is dangerously low. And there currently is no hope in sight.

    *We are at a 45% vacancy.

    *We work 365 days a year // 24 hours a day

    *There are currently 23 dispatchers working in the control to cover those
    hours.

    *We only have 2 dispatchers currently in training with no guarantee they will
    become signed off employees.

    *If the two current trainees make it through the process they are the only
    staffing increase we will see for the next year as the current hiring process
    has not even finished and our training program is a year long.

    I personally have worked in excess of 200+ hours since January.

    Matt Mahon’s promise to change the status quo does not seem to include the fire and medical dispatchers of San Jose’s staffing crisis. With projected leave of 4 of our current dispatchers in the next 3 months, we will be in a place where there physically won’t be enough of us to cover the meager staffing requirements we currently hold. Your 911 calls will not include life saving instructions, because we won’t have call takers on the medical side to take them.

    We need help now.. We need solution… And all we seem to hear from the city is, you’re on your own.

    We work for the citizens of San Jose. Please reach out.. Ask questions.. Any one of us is happy to answer them.

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    • In response to the 23 dispatchers, some clarification is needed. There are 17 dispatchers and 1 part-time dispatcher. There are 6 Senior dispatchers that also do the job of call taker, dispatcher and shift supervisor. Their shift encompasses taking 9-1-1 calls, handling radio traffic from field units (if needed), make sure notifications are made during large events, write annual appraisals, manage city coverage for fire units, handle complaints, write weekly reviews of trainees, ensure that staffing is figured out for the week when someone calls in sick ( that means figuring out who is up for mandated overtime and writing a mandatory slip which requires looking at who is already on duty, who has a work restriction, who has 9 hours between their shift and the mandated shift). In addition, we have to recertify our EMD/EFD certifications that allow us to take 9-1-1 calls (every two years). These continuing education credits require taking tests after reviewing material. We have to keep up with technology so that means more training-but we don’t sit in a classroom, we are going through the training while we are still on duty and working our position for the day. We also have the mandated sexual harassment classes that the city requires and the monthly cyber security classes they also require…..all while working at our position for the day. Then throw in the additional work of helping with the dispatcher academies (dispatchers and Senior dispatchers all chip in when they can fit it in between their regular shift and their mandated overtime). The expectations that our department and city leadership has for all of us is unreasonable when our staffing is at bare bones.

      It’s important to say that we, the people actually answering your calls for help/service, never worked from home during the pandemic. We received no special concessions, no special pay, no special “thank you”, even when some of us struggled with finding daycare, taking care of sick family members or experiencing the stress of hearing people struggling to breathe their last breath while the paramedics were still on the way.

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  15. STAFF UP SAN JOSE!!! I see the toll it takes on your dispatchers to work so many hours. It’s not just the employees that are affected by the under staffing, it’s their families. The lack of staffing is ridiculous and nothing good can come from prolonged staffing shortages. Dispatch is a hard job in itself but add long hours with few days off there aren’t many people that can do it. And when the cards all fall who will be there to pick them up?

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  16. San Jose Fire Dispatchers are over worked and under paid. As my coworkers have stated we are being mandated to work 12–14-hour days and are unable to refuse the hours. We also may only get 9 hours in between those shifts. 9 hours in between shifts, when you have to drive out of this city to a city that you can afford to live in, also try to see your baby and significant other, clean or meal prep so you have food for the week and oh yea sleep, feels like nothing. I understood when I went into this career that I would miss holidays and birthdays, but not even be able to count on getting a weekend to have those celebrations on other days was not part of the expectation. I have watched so many qualified candidates leave after seeing the work load they are walking into for some of the lowest pay for this type of job. I love my job and I know my coworkers do too or else we wouldn’t be here. We want to help and be that calm reassuring voice on the other side of the phone helping you thru your emergencies. San Jose, your dispatchers are tired and can’t even afford to live in the city they serve. Please help us. Make noise, let your council member know, share this with your friends and family.

    ********Please let your council member know how important this is to our city, my coworkers and our citizens.

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  17. San Jose Fire Dispatch is a unique team in this union. We are first responders; my team and I all vowed to care for the citizens of San Jose when we committed to the job. We work endless hours with little complaint. San Jose Fire Dispatch is one of the highest compliance rated accredited centers IN THE COUNTRY. We get our recorded calls randomly graded for compliance to our protocols, which allows us to consistently provide quality care to the citizens we serve.

    I am so proud to be a part of such an amazing and elite group of dispatchers who quietly save lives & keep our fire department line personnel safe behind the scenes… Rarely in the public eye, we consistently deliver life-saving instructions while the other half of our team out on the line dons their gear, gets in their fire truck, and drives to save the life we are holding in balance carefully over the phone line.

    We are the busiest (highest-call-volume) agency in the county for fire/medical and the lowest paid. We are woefully understaffed at just over half staffing. We are elite: specially trained for medical emergencies & fire emergencies- we are entirely separate from San Jose Police Dispatch. We are the trained professionals who handle medical emergencies for loved ones over the phone, and we are the ones who will calmly coach you through exiting a burning building. Each of us saves multiple lives in our city a week. The way we are treated has to change!

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  18. I commented earlier, but I’d like to add something. After Measure B, dispatchers hired at the end of 2012 don’t have the same retirement and retire at 62 years old instead of 55. That might sound normal- for a regular job it is. For a dispatcher, I feel it’s so dangerous. I’m good at my job and I think I’m pretty smart. I also know with how fast thinking you have to be and the amount of multi-tasking needed, working until 62 years old is not good for the community we serve. I’m slower now than I was 10 years ago. I can’t imagine myself doing this type of work at 62 years old.

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  19. We are not secretaries or operators. We are not a 9-5 job with weekends off. We are the first, first responders. The state has recognized us as such (CA AB 1945) yet the City of San Jose fails to even understand the significant and crucial role we play to ensure its citizens receive prompt and necessary life changing instructions.

    The time in between placing the initial 911 call and when help actually arrives is crucial especially when it involves performing CPR. The fire department dispatcher (not the police dispatcher who isn’t certified/trained to do so) is the one providing those instructions to citizens. The chance of survival diminishes every second and minute.

    The TWO medical/fire call takers isn’t sufficient to help a city with a million people. Reality is people have emergencies at all hours and often at the same time.

    So how would you feel if you called 911 because your grandma is no longer breathing but the only person you’re able to speak to is a police call taker who can only send you the help but not able to guide you on doing CPR?

    Or how would you feel if your 2 year old was drowning in the pool and you didn’t know how to help her? But again, the only 2 call takers in the city of 1 million people are busy speaking to other citizens who are also having medical emergencies.

    What if you yourself woke up in the middle of the night to a house filled with pitch black smoke and flames surrounding you with no way out? Who then can help you through that frightening situation? Who then would know what information to obtain from you and provide those specific and crucial details to firefighters so they can quickly help you?

    We are people just like you. We shouldn’t worry about how many hours of sleep we will get after working 12-14 hour shifts with only 9 hours in between them. We shouldn’t worry whether we will be mandated to work overtime on our days off. Can you imagine having this type of work schedule and having a thriving life? We don’t know how much longer we can physically and mentally keep this up before the citizens suffer the consequences.

    We are exhausted and overwhelmed with the workload this job demands because the City of San Jose has failed to recognize, compensate, and take action with our staffing issues. Citizens deserve 911 dispatchers that alert, oriented, and well rested, so we can best help you in what may be the worst day of your life.

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    • When walking someone through CPR is this done by memory or a prompt of some kind? In that case wouldn’t it be prudent to begin training police call takers to handle medical?

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      • Hi Lola. We have strict Medical protocols that we use and recertify our use of those Medical protocols every two years. In addition, we use Fire protocols which address anything fire related ( burning buildings, vehicle fires, hazardous material leaks, downed electrical lines, detailed trains, sinking vehicles, vegetation fires, etc.). These protocols are updated often enough and we have to train using those changes. These protocols are used in many countries, not just the US.

        People choose police or fire dispatch for a reason. Some people don’t want to work on the fire/medical side and some don’t want to work on the police side. Our city is huge and I think the separation works well in our case. People don’t often know that we have two sides, even though the end goal is the same — serving the public.

        Both sides require minths of training in an academy and then one-on-one with a trainer. We have roughly a 50% retention rate for trainees because there is a lot to learn and they have to pass being a call taker before they can train on the radio side (the radio traffic of firefighters on calls or working large events—fast and accurate documentation is necessary). Also, our radio dispatchers are able to determine ismf one unit is closed to an event by looking at their location on the map. We can quickly recognize when a call need to be upgraded, determine if more equipment is needed, ensure that scene safefetybinformation is passed on to responding fire and ambulance crews, etc. When I had worked as a paramedic prior to dispatch, I had no idea what the job entailed or how hard it would be….I quickly found out.

        The dispatchers that work for San Jose Fire can do any of the position in the room (call taking, dispatching, Systems Comtrol). If a big event is working, we all do a little bit of each during those events to help one another.

        We are highly adaptable, and can go from zero to sixty when it’s necessary. For example, when the tragic shooting occurred at the VTA in 2021, every call taker quickly took a radio command channel to work the two fires and the Active Shooter event that occurred within minutes of one another. Thankfully it was a week day and in the morning because we had the admin supervisors and seniors to come in to help with taking calls—and there were plenty. Had this happened during our Graveyard shift, it wouldn’t have been as easy to manage because of our staffing.

        I gave you more than you probably wanted, but hopefully I answered your question.

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      • This is done through our protocol software and or cards with the National Academy of Emergency Dispatch. We are trained on how to use the protocols and have to maintain continuing education classes and be CPR certified. Training the police dispatchers is something their department would have to consider and do on their own, as there is also a liability to the department when providing these instructions. I hope this answers your question.

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  20. As a San Jose resident, I find this article and the added info from SJ Fire Dispatchers completely shocking. The Tech Capital of the world, in a state with the world’s fifth largest economy, allows the front line of our foremost public safety agency—fire and medical emergency services—to operate with 55% of necessary personnel?? In a city of over a million people, surrounded by dry grasslands in a state that’s staggered through over a decade of devastating wildfires, City leaders won’t properly staff Dispatch—the first point of contact for the Fire Department?

    I’m sure that balancing the City’s budget and competing priorities is no easy task, but there’s a basic ethical and common sense axiom that demands that we support that which supports us. If 911 Dispatchers—the dedicated first responders who ensure citizens get the help we need when there’s a fire, a medical emergency, a car crash, etc.—don’t qualify as “that which supports us”, I don’t know what (who) does.

    The fact that San Jose Fire Department 911 Dispatchers are literally half-staffed because the pay can’t compete with surrounding towns is a travesty. To do nothing about it means we’re OK with a delayed response when an elderly parent breaks a hip, when our child is injured, or when our neighbor has a heart attack. Or, heaven forbid, when our home is on fire.

    We need to let Mayor Matt Mahan know that this is unacceptable. He can be reached at 408-535-4900 or [email protected]

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  21. I’m sad to see the state at which the Fire Dispatch is currently facing. I choose this profession to help people that need immediate, life-saving assistance. To wait on hold for that help is unheard of, period. One minute of waiting for a qualified EMD (emergency medical dispatcher) could be a matter of life or death. However, with the level of staffing at this all time low. It’s only a matter of time before one of the overworked, underpaid dispatchers will be in need of those lifesaving medical instructions themselves. Humans breakdown physically, emotionally and psychologically! Having someone answer your 9-1-1 call while in the midst of their own emergency is a recipe for disaster.

    San Jose has to do better, Step Up & Staff Up before there’s no one left to Step On.

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    • What we haven’t touched on is the reality of working in a 9-1-1 center:
      When it’s busy, and it is more often than not, it could be hours before we can run down the hall to use the restroom. When new mothers come back from maternity leave they feel the physical pressure/pain of having to wait to express their milk because they are on a 9-1-1 call that they can’t place on hold or have someone else take over. Women have menstrual cycles and, again, they have to wait to take care of their personal needs because the call volume is so high that it’s not easy to break away. We still come in even when our cramps are so bad that we’re doubled over in pain…..we allow our guilt to override reaon because if we call in sick, we know that one of our co-workers will be mandated to stay longer.
      We clean our own center, empty our own garbages. Our chairs are often broken. Our computer system is hit or miss. Our phone system often has static that we have to suffer through while taking 9-1-1 calls. When we ask a caller to repeat something, it’s often because we can’t hear them because of the static. Our lighting in the room is awful…. Some of us suffer from migraines and need the lights lower while others need the lights on because we can’t adequately see our keyboards…… yet there we are in a room without windows, sometimes without adequate airflow. When the HVAC system fails for the building, we still have to work.
      With all of these things, we still show up, we still answer the calls for service and we still put the citizens’ needs before our own needs and welfare.

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  22. I wonder if the City knows there are at least 3-4 fully qualified administrative staff working in the offices of San Jose Fire Comm that could and should be helping out with the staffing shortage. No one and I mean NOBODY should be able to work 8 hours Monday-Friday with nights, weekends and holidays off!!

    This is a disaster and if staffing, hiring and retention aren’t enough to have ALL able hands on deck I don’t know else there is to do if they’re not enough people to work the shifts. What is the manager managing ? Who are the training supervisor training? What is the systems supervisor doing while everyone else is working themselves into an early grave?

    What does the Fire Chief have to say about these deplorable working conditions? How can anyone sleep at night knowing the the San Jose Fire Dispatchers aren’t sleeping well, eating right, getting enough time off to just breathe. Everyone needs to take notice and do something. This is a major Critical Stress Incident and there has to be a response. I’m praying for someone to come and help with the staffing issues, the pay discrepancies and the lack of compassion that the city and the Fire department are showing for my fellow dispatchers.

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  23. I’m horrified reading about this! These are the people who unselfishly work to take the public’s calls and cries for help and they’re being treated like this?! This needs to change ASAP! What will happen when they get so burned out that they can’t help anymore and there is no back up for them?? Absolutely not acceptable.

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  24. As a previous member of San Jose Fire Communications, I feel responsible to comment. And this is going to be a long comment. I offer some of the same, but also another perspective.

    I worked for 23 years at Fire Communications and can say with 100% certainty that, in those 23 years, we were never fully staffed. NEVER. The issues that my coworkers above speak about are not new and are going to get worse.

    San Jose’s increasing population of course causes more calls to 911. Even if there was an increase in budgeted positions to keep up with growth, filling those positions continues to be challenging. A lengthy hiring process (6-8 months is quick compared to what it used to be) and a year long training program adds up to more than 18 months before a new hire can begin to offer some relief to the staffing crisis. In Fire Communications, there are currently six shift supervisors and 18 full time fully trained dispatchers assigned to the 911 center. There should be at least seven (optimally eight) shift supervisors and 30 dispatchers. Still, 26 people are not enough to do the job of 38. The six to eight people who might be hired soon are STILL 18 months out from being fully trained. And during those 18 months, brand new and tenured dispatchers will leave. So at minimum, it is at least another 18 months of the same low staffing, high call volume, and overtime. 18 months is a very long road to the folks in the trenches right now.

    Technological advances, on the surface, appear to make the dispatcher’s job easier, more efficient. In reality, often times, they end up being another tool, another computer program, another screen to monitor, another task that the dispatcher is responsible for. Over the years, the job of the dispatcher has become more difficult; the dispatcher is hyper vigilent, making sure not to miss a single detail, not to forget to do a certain task, remembering to check that one last item that might be the one thing that leads to saving a life.

    Barring major events, just 5-6 dispatchers are on duty in the 911 center at any given time. During an eight-hour shift, it takes six hours to provide everyone with their breaks and lunch periods. Of the remaining 4-5 people, during the majority of an eight-hour shift, two people are tasked with answering the 911 lines for fire and medical emergencies for a population of over 1M people. Two. Budget requests for adding additional call taking positions have been denied.

    A dispatcher’s job is very technical and specialized. Not many jobs have a year long, structured training program that require you to work side by side with a tenured employee. Not many jobs take about 3-5 years until one might be comfortable and confident in their job skills. This job requires that one is on top of their game Every Single Day. This job is subject to public and internal scrutiny; 911 calls and radio transmissions are recorded. 911 calls are randomly reviewed to be sure the dispatcher is adhering to numerous protocols and standards. This job requires someone to very quickly assess an emergent situation and “see” the big picture with only their ears. Despite these pressures, your dispatchers show up everyday. Your dispatchers want to do a good job and want to take pride in their work.

    A dispatcher must always be “on”. Working for 14 hours straight, day after day, in the dispatch environment absolutely takes a toll. I’m fortunate that I made it to retirement. I’m also one of many who fell victim to Measure B. Pay cuts and a reduction in certain benefits caused many to leave. Those of us who stayed were then even farther behind in what our counterparts at other agencies were getting in terms of pay and benefits. I can speak first hand to what the toll of working so hard in the 911 environment is. These folks will struggle for years to return to a normal sleep habit. The pressure of being responsible for another human’s life will continue to manifest itself in back, neck, shoulder, and joint pain long after the dispatcher leaves their job. The emotional impact of hearing so much trauma over the phone WILL result in PTSD that is very difficult to work through. Seeing coworkers’ daily struggle with having to work overtime AGAIN will remain with them even when it is no longer a part of their daily lives.

    Mentioned earlier, the staffing and pay issues are not new. After 23 years, San Jose is way, way long overdue in addressing the pay disparity between San Jose and neighboring 911 agencies. The population and call volume that neigboring agencies serve are miniscule in comparison. Closing the pay gap will fairly compensate the San Jose Fire Dispatcher for the specialized jobs they perform. Closing the pay gap will help attract a larger pool of qualified dispatcher candidates to want to work for San Jose, a city where I am proud to have worked, but one where many no longer are.

    The time is NOW, not in another 23 years. The staffing shortage is a huge concern, but it is secondary to the mental, emotional, and physical impact that it has on all of the men and women who currently work for San Jose Fire Communications.

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  25. The City needs to do better. As mentioned in another post, we have submitted requests for more staffing and the City denies our requests, citing that we cannot fill the positions we have. How can we fill those positions when a person can go to nearby agencies and make a realistic, competitive wage?

    As someone who should be able to help make a positive difference for our dispatchers, my hands are often tied by the lack of staffing at Communications. I cannot fix the systems being used day after day, all day long by our Dispatchers to do the job expected of them because I do not have the staffing assigned to me in order to get the job done. I cannot complete projects that would make those systems better or add features that would directly support the operations of the room because the staffing does not exist to do it all. The staffing needed to run, and support the running of, a Dispatch Center does not exist. Right now, the Dispatchers are the one’s who most directly feel the impact, but the Citizens of San Jose will increasingly feel the effects as more dispatchers leave.

    The City needs to approve more staffing AND bring all wages up to a competitive rate that encourages City employees to continue to work in this City and allows them to live in the City where they work. There is absolutely nothing keeping any of us here besides our pride in what we do and our desire to help. However, we all reach a breaking point where our need to have a healthy life, outside of work, will outweigh our desire to put others first.

    It’s time to Staff Up San Jose

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  26. These staffing issues at Fire Comms are not knew. The citizens are the one who will suffer in the end. The city needs to step up, no doubt about that. As stated before, this city used to be great, the fire department leadership is ruining it, and city management will not address the problems. That said, the upper level manager of the communications unit does not help this situation at all. Constantly saying yes to management, offering to do more work with less staffing, not standing up for the dispatchers and call takers, inability to plan ahead and foresee the issues coming. When inexperienced supervisors who skip rank and don’t spend time learning the job or craft, and/or promote to early… the employee gets stepped on. It’s the citizen who needs help who suffers.

    Coward leadership is cancer in any organization and needs to be stopped. When the person at the top refuses to have other opinions and only wants “yes” employees, you will drive the organization into the ground.

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  27. San Jose Fire Communications’ dispatchers are incredibly well trained, highly skilled dedicated professionals. As mentioned above they are certified Emergency Medical Dispatchers (EMD) and Emergency Fire Dispatchers (EFD). These are international certifications that they must maintain as a part of the job. This includes re-certifying in each discipline every two years by testing and completing continuing education. San Jose Fire Communications is also an Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) in EMD, meaning that their call compliance is so high that it warrants and earns an extra level of accreditation. This speaks to the incredibly high level of service provided to the people of San Jose. They also have call compliance scores in EFD that would qualify for an ACE as well. Not only do they have compliance that qualifies them for ACE but their compliance scores are well above the average of ACE centers. They continue to provide this high level of service even when they have worked hundreds of hours of overtime and we are just half way through the year. They continue to provide this high level of service when they are mandated to work multiple 14 hour shifts. However every person reaches a breaking point, and the city cannot continue to ask these highly skilled and dedicated dispatchers (humans with lives outside of work) to do more with less. As mentioned above the city needs to raise wages to compete, attract, AND retain more staff. In addition to an increase, the city needs to approved more positions. We need more staff to meet the growing needs of the city of San Jose. We cannot keep asking to do more with less. Our dispatchers are overworked, burning out, feeling the physical and mental effects of working hours and hours of overtime for years.

    I want to be able to attract and hire many qualified people to fill these seats, ease the overtime workload, and provide the high level of service to the people of San Jose. In order to do so, the city needs to support us and do better with higher competitive pensionable wages and more budgeted positions. I want to be able to support and grow our people and center, in order to do that we need people.

    It is time to STAFF UP San Jose!

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