In December, the D.C. Council approved four furlough days for District employees, leaving them without pay on national holidays to save the city $19 million. Police officers, and fire and rescue workers were exempt, but dispatchers at the 911 call center were required to take the time off. In the weeks before the first furlough day, the union representing the call-takers pleaded with members of the Vincent Gray administration to exempt them, too. Those pleas went unanswered.
On Feb. 22 the workers took their leave from midnight to 6 a.m. and nearly 200 calls were dropped, city officials confirmed. Due to the furlough, the usual complement of 16 dispatchers dropped to three during that time, an e-mail from union president Lee Blackmon to Gray administration officials said.
"This is an issue of managerial competency," police union chief Kris Baumann said. "The administration never considered this possibility when it signed off on the furlough and then ignored warnings that this could happen.
On Feb. 5, Blackmon sent a letter to Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul Quander as her "final plea" to have the dispatchers exempted from the furlough. The letter says it was sent only after the administration failed to respond to an earlier letter to City Administrator Allen Lew raising the same concerns.
"... The decision to include the operations employees of the Office of Unified Communications must be reconsidered," Blackmon wrote. ... The correlation of duties of [the police department], [the fire department], and OUC are affixed, one cannot operate without the other."
A mayor's spokeswoman could not say Sunday why those concerns were not addressed when Blackmon raised them.
The administration has now acted to avoid future problems, according to Quander.
Because of the way the furlough law was written, he said, "the employees had to be furloughed within the two-week pay period of [President's Day]." At the request of the administration, the council has modified the legislation to allow 911 call-takers to be furloughed over a longer period of time in the future.