After Jersey City dispatchers protest at council meeting, admin withdraws private study contract


After Jersey City dispatchers protested at last night’s council meeting, the administration withdrew a $213,085.11 contract for a private firm to evaluate their practices, about four-and-a-half months after the governing body had voted it down.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

The resolution that was first again before the council was rejected in November by a vote of 2-6, with Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey and Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise voting yes. Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera was absent.

“He [Public Safety Director James Shea] basically is trying to make the 911 service implode by not managing it properly. I think it’s disgusting. I urge you all to vote no,” Jeanne Daly said to applause from the crowd.

Dispatcher Anky Upadhyay was also highly critical of Shea’s leadership.

“This new commander Shea has something against us. He’s out for the money. He’s involved somehow with this company. It’s strictly against your pay-to-play policy. All the equipment is working,” he said at the podium during the extensive public portion.

“Hire more public safety telecommunicators. That place is in operation 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. When it comes to privatization, I have to worry about putting food [on the table] for my family.”

Luis Figueroa was one of several workers who complained about being paid improperly and severely understaffed, which he said was an insult since they were deemed first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to several colleagues dying since remote work wasn’t an option.

“You don’t have to pay IXP for something the State will do for free. We’re still waiting for … things we’ve been promised for five years,” Amanda Blue, a dispatcher and a trustee for Jersey City Public Employees Local 246, said.

“We’ve been doing the work of 8 or 10 different departments. We’re still waiting on the pay of being in a state of emergency. It’s year three. We need help.”

Roseann Manto asserted that 82 of 88 people hired in the last few years quit due to the poor working conditions.

“If a study must be done… do it without a third party. Why can’t we invite the State to ensure … the equipment functions properly?” Fire Department Dispatcher Michael Madrigal asked. “

“Our issues with understaffing can be solved internally. Communication centers are not being paid correctly … Our city’s safety is way too important to trust to a company.”

Christina Mezey noted she has also had payroll issues. She said the city is violating its contract and State law.

“Why is the contract only followed when it’s convenient to the city? Not only we not being paid correctly, we are understaffed and overworked.”

“They openly mocked Jersey City on their website. Why have a company that cares less about the city come in?” she said of IXP after the now infamous incident at Taqueria last month where a car crashed into the building and 911 could not handle the call volume.

Local 426 1st Vice President Kim Nieves highlighted the payroll debacle, as well as that employees who ask questions are threatened, while those who refused to work overtime are disciplined.

Fran Donovan said the city doesn’t recognize the unions and is not respecting their current contract.

“Sounds like union busting … We all know studies lead to privatization,” she asserted.

Yet another frustrated employee, Nicole Murrell, said management was not qualified and not capable of handling the workload.

“We have management that are basically high paid security guards. They have zero managerial training and no people skills. We have members of management with more than half a dozen EO complaints. Constant harassment, retaliation, discrimination, driving by the personal feeling of management have often contributed to this very hostile work environment,” said exclaimed.

“Seeing these articles and complaints about 911 not answering is a little frustrating. We do not get the luxury of a phone ringing in our ears and get to decide if we answer the call or not. Paying a private company is not the answer.”

Paul Tamburelli, another dispatcher, said that they are working holidays and overnight shifts without raises while many shifts are unsupervised.

“IXP, we should vote against it. It’s not going to work. During the caucus meeting… Shea was asked if IXP fails to meet expectations and City Hall’s back payments, when IXP stops taking calls, who’s going to take them?,” dispatcher Jonathan Davis asked.

“Director Shea, Director Moody, and Director Baker all need to go,” Davis added. “Shea stood up here and lied. They’re trying to sabotage us.”

He also accused Business Administrator John Metro of threatening them for reaching out to the council and urged them to reject the study.

Once public portion concluded, Metro indicated that the measure would be withdrawn.

“Whatever accusations that were just presented to me, I just recommend the employees file HR complaints against me. There’s a chain of command, and that chain of command was violated. When the chain of command is violated, disciplinary action is proposed.”

“I know there’s a lot of conversation tonight about a hostile takeover and a privatization of the 911 dispatch. It’s solely for a report, and that report is going to look at staffing, tech, and performance, and that’s all we were looking to do tonight.”

The crowd called out disapproval, which Council President Joyce Watterman sought to quell.

“The 2018 report was … not a comprehensive report. This will look at every intricate part. From my knowledge and being with the government, the only reports the States does is mergers, acquisitions, takeovers, and consolidations,” Metro added.

“I don’t think that the State offers a system and how efficient you are in certain areas or gives recs on the technology you should buy. That’s why we’re working with IXP. They’re the only ones in the business. We’ll continue to work with the Council.”

He noted performance, payroll, and outsourcing are all separate issues.

“This is the second or third time with 911 operators. I’m quite sure that it’s a hostile environment. Whether it’s management or employees. They can’t seem to get a place where they sit down,” Watterman interjected, calling for a third-party mediator.

“We know the severity of that division. It is a concern for us that you guys hold a crucial role in the city, and if you’re not there, it affects all the other residents.”

Additionally, Rivera called for a more civil tone despite the obvious challenges.

“There’s a lot of hatred to the mayor and the director. The dialogue that you are having is ridiculous with the administration. I don’t know if the administration or the mayor or the director is not listening to you. Then just be louder instead of coming here on a podium. You have to demand that meeting. I don’t see that coming from your union.”

City Clerk Sean Gallagher also addressed people yelling out from the audience, asking them to be respectful.

“Did anyone physically from the city contact the State and ask them what they can do?” Ward F Councilman Frank “Educational” Gilmore asked.

Metro said that he did not since that that would be up to Shea in this instance.

“There’s clearly a lot of mistrust on all sides. We do need a third party to come in. Reach out to the State and ask them what the scope of their services are,” Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey added.

“It’s more than one issue here. Mediation does need to happen here.”

“Absolutely councilwoman. We can share the scope of work we want to perform with the state,” Metro replied.

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