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LOCKPORT - Six police dispatchers, transferred from North Tonawanda to the Niagara County Sheriff's Office on July 1, filed a lawsuit this week contending that they received a raw deal on pay and benefits.
The dispatchers say the city and the county broke the state Civil Service Law in not moving all their seniority to the county when the governments made an agreement to have the Sheriff's Office begin dispatching calls to the North Tonawanda Police Department.
The suit in Niagara County Court contends that if their seniority had been applied in full, five of the six would be earning $3.42 per hour more than they actually are, while the sixth plaintiff would see an increase of $2.95 per hour.
Terry M. Sugrue, attorney for the six dispatchers, said the county Deputy Sheriffs Association contract, which covers the dispatchers, includes a six-step pay scale. That means a new hire would take six years to reach the maximum pay rate of $23.15 per hour.
However, the six North Tonawanda dispatchers, who had joined the city between nine and 12 years ago, were placed on Step 3 of the county pay scale, which is $20.20 per hour.
They lost all their longevity for bidding on the more desirable shifts and also were disqualified from earning shift differentials that add 50 cents an hour to the wage for working the second shift, and 55 cents an hour for working the third, or overnight, shift.
The least experienced of the six, Brenda Higgins, also is missing out on two days of vacation she would have received if she were allowed to bring along all her seniority, the lawsuit says.
She and the other five plaintiffs - Lisa DiFrancesco, Kelly Earnst, Michael Janowsky, Michelle Maraschiello and Raymond Yurek - also are receiving less credit toward retirement health insurance than they would have if all their seniority were allowed.
Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Thomas C. Beatty said the six dispatchers were divided equally among the three shifts and were trained to dispatch police calls all over the county, not just in North Tonawanda. Next week, they will begin training to dispatch fire calls, as well.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com