Thanks for recognizing DEC dispatchers

To the editor:

Re: editorial dated Nov. 15, “It’s not just rangers DEC needs more of”:

I appreciate your inclusion of state Department of Environmental Conservation dispatchers in your editorial.

Dispatchers are unique in DEC. They are among the few classified as “essential” employees who must report for duty even during weather emergencies and can be directed to report early, stay late and work mandatory overtime shifts. They are among the only agency staff required to undergo extensive pre-employment background checks and fingerprinting, just like conservation police officers and state forest rangers. They triage calls for life-threatening issues and emergency response management, and provide 24/7 coverage between the Albany and Ray Brook locations. We read about their work every week in the articles you print about environmental conservation officers’ and forest rangers’ responses.

I have firsthand knowledge of the important work the DEC dispatchers do. A co-worker and myself suffered a terrible on-the-job accident, and were it not for the local dispatcher’s fine work in guiding the rangers to rescue us from our remote, exact location in a timely manner, I fear our injuries may have been much worse. The environmental conservation officers and state forest rangers do a fine job, and the dispatchers play an integral part in the function of their services.

Despite all this, DEC dispatchers are still classified as “seasonal” employees. New York Civil Service law (seasonal appointments, CSR Section 4.4) states that seasonal positions can be utilized when “the service is not continuous throughout the year but recurs in each successive year” (New York State Department of Civil Service, Summary of NYS Civil Service Law, page 12, “Seasonal Appointments”).

DEC dispatchers do not meet these guidelines as their service is needed all year. This was previously recognized, and dispatchers were given a waiver from the NYS Division of Budget to allow them to work 100 percent. But after the recent Dannemora prison escape, all DEC dispatchers were cut back to 80 percent employment. To achieve this, they must take between seven and eight weeks of layoffs each year. Yes, that dispatcher taking your call requesting a backcountry emergency rescue likely just had a one-week layoff.

CSEA is attempting to fix this situation via our new contract with New York state, which as part of the contract is setting up a committee to address seasonal employee issues. A big part of this is working toward getting these emergency responders into full-time, permanent positions. We are working hard for our members who serve the public every day.

Thank you for an excellent editorial and an overview of the staffing challenges faced by DEC employees.

John LeFebvre

CSEA Local 017 President