Grueling shifts, rationed water, no contract

Police support union files complaints against City of Issaquah.

It’s been more than two years since the Issaquah Police Support Services Association (IPSSA) has had a pay raise. In January the union — comprised of jail staff, police dispatch and police records staff — began its third year without a contract and “no end in sight,”members said.

Felicia Moore is a police dispatcher with the Issaquah Police Department and also serves on the Executive Board for the IPSSA union. In an email to the Reporter, Moore outlined the issues she says her union has faced when trying to negotiate a contract with the city.

“Much like the teachers unions around the state, we have been struggling to come to an agreement with the city and only want a fair and reasonable offer which we feel has been the opposite of how they’ve approached us,” she wrote. “But unlike the teacher unions, striking is not an option because of the nature of our jobs.”

Their last base-pay increase was a 3-percent raise in January 2015, contract documents show. In January 2016 members received a 2.5 percent bonus but no pay increase.

Issaquah city officials provided a limited response: “Our Issaquah Police Department staff serve a critical function for our community,” wrote Thomas Rush, communications coordinator for the city. “Issaquah is continuing to engage in good faith negotiations with the IPSSA bargaining team, and has been for some time. The city strives to work collaboratively with all of our bargaining units, and strongly supports the bargaining process. Issaquah looks forward to negotiating a fair and competitive contract for its employees. The city values the hard work that these employees perform, and desires a timely resolution to the current negotiations.”

The IPSSA group wants to be compensated at a reasonable rate, Moore said, with a reasonable cost of living increase offset. King County cost of living adjustment rates are calculated at 3.4 percent in 2019.

“There’s a higher increase in taxes, higher increase in medical rates, housing, gas — everything has gone up, but we’re still operating at 2015 wages,” Moore said. Her mortgage has gone up by more than $100 a month, she added.

In order to offset the cost of living increase, Moore has been cutting costs where she can by couponing and having her mother-in-law care for her children to mitigate daycare expenses. And her husband has been working as much overtime as possible.

A COLA (cost of living adjustment) increase is the least that the association workers should get, she said, given the conditions she experiences at the dispatch center.

Rationing water

The two Issaquah emergency dispatchers on shift on Tuesday, Feb.5, were only half an hour into their shifts at 6:30 p.m. Given the snowy weather, they said the night was going smoother than they had pictured it.

It was nothing like what Teresa Davenport had experienced on a day in August last year. An emergency call rang in about a man — the caller’s friend — who had barricaded himself in a room with a weapon. Given the nature of the job, Davenport had to issue a line of questioning, call and dispatch officers, and check on the emergency contact for the apartment complex where the incident was happening.

Davenport had previously worked at Snohomish County 911, where she could focus on the safety of her officers. Her current role at Issaquah requires a lot of multi-tasking, she said.

Then there’s the summer of 2017, when the center was down about four dispatchers (some had quit and the others were on maternity leave). Davenport described having to man the five phone banks alone at times.

She took all calls for the cities of Issaquah, Snoqualmie and North Bend, answered the Issaquah, Snoqualmie and North Bend non-emergency lines, picked up internal employee calls and questions, and answered the phone for other agencies and alarm companies.

What’s worse was the limited ability to use the restroom. “They tell us if we need a bathroom break to pull a sergeant, but they get busy and sometimes you don’t get to go to the bathroom,” Davenport said. “You start rationing your water.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, being down a person, Moore would go five hours answering the phone lines alone. Davenport’s shift would end at 1 a.m., Moore’s at 6 a.m.

Moore has been a police dispatcher for more than 10 years. Her days, she said, are never the same. “We deal with people on their worst days almost every day constantly for 12 hour shifts.”

Both dispatchers and jail staff work the “grueling” 12-hour shifts, Moore said.

“I can’t just hang up the phone and just walk away, people’s lives are quite literally in our hands,” Moore said. “I don’t think the city understands how important these jobs are to the city in keeping it running and keeping it efficient.”

‘Refusing to bargain’

Since their employment contract officially expired on Dec. 31, 2016, Moore said, city management has used delay and stall tactics in a refusal to bargain with her union. Since the parties entered into a PERC-facilitated contract mediation in the summer of 2017, the groups have met for bargaining with a mediator about eight times, according to their latest Unfair Labor Practice complaint filed on Jan. 15, 2019.

Communication on negotiations have gone unreturned by city officials for months. The longest time span being five months, according to counsel for the association. (The city did not comment directly on the delays, issuing only the general response above.)

This “lengthy negotiation process” pushed IPSSA members, which provide service to Issaquah, Snoqualmie and North Bend, into filing their second ULP to the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) against the city.

Their first complaint argued the city failed to bargain the impacts of medical insurance changes with union members. The association partially won the decision. PERC determined that the city had an obligation to bargain the health impacts.

When fully staffed, the mixed-union group consists of 26 members: 13 jailers, 10 dispatch and three records personnel. Due to the size and multi-occupation nature, the group is not eligible for interest-based arbitration, a practice that uses a third-party mediator to determine conflict outcomes.

“Unless the city is trying to negotiate in good faith … our hands are really tied,” said union president and corrections officer Allen Hensley. “We can’t go through independent arbitrator to come to a resolution to something fair and equitable given what we do and based on other markets.”

Given how limited the union is, Hensley said he believes city officials are content to stall. The union even asked the city to move forward with a prior offer of December 2017.

“They won’t do that,” Hensley said. “They don’t want to negotiate, return emails, to sit down at the table and come forward with offers … What are we supposed to do?

“Didn’t want to file another ULP, but they didn’t leave us much choice.”

It’s about being heard, Moore said.

“We want more than anything for the city to listen to us to take us seriously and value what we do,” Moore said. “We provide an essential service to not only Issaquah but North Bend.”

It may be longer than a year before the second ULP is decided upon. But union members said they hope an agreement can be reached before that point.

“We just wanted to be treated fairly. We’re not asking for the moon,” Hensley said. “I don’t think asking for a simple cost of living raise that’s viable for the type of work we do is unreasonable at all.”

Moore monitors surveillance screens during her work day. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo

Moore monitors surveillance screens during her work day. Ashley Hiruko/staff photo