NORTH TONAWANDA – A State Supreme Court justice has ruled that this city’s former six-member police dispatching staff was right to expect that full seniority and its privileges would be transferred along with their move to the sheriff’s county dispatch headquarters in Lockport.

As part of the city’s effort to cut costs, the former North Tonawanda police dispatchers moved, in the second half of last year, to the dispatching center, which is next to the County Jail.

In the deal negotiated between the city and county, the dispatchers who had between five and 12 years experience were not able to apply those years on the job to all aspects of their new positions: They could not use the seniority credit for pay and shift and vacation scheduling.

“We totally disagreed with that,” said Bill Davignon, union president of the North Tonawanda Unit of the Civil Service Employees Association.

The CSEA, which represented the workers when they were employed by the city, filed a lawsuit challenging the action. “The big thing we were upset about was the issue of seniority carrying over for shift bidding,” said Davignon.

Civil service law has rules about terms of employment when workers are transferred involuntarily, which includes the transfer of full seniority rights, he said. “Seniority goes with them,” he said.

The law states that seniority is transferred for “all purposes,” he added. “It doesn’t really elaborate.”

After examining the question for what those purposes are, acting State Supreme Court Justice Matthew J. Murphy sided with the CSEA’s interpretation, Davignon said.

The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office can appeal the court ruling, which was announced Monday.

Sheriff James Voutour could not be reached to comment.

If the ruling stands, a dispatcher with 10 years’ experience in North Tonawanda would go from earning about $20 an hour at the Sheriff’s Office to about $23, Davignon said.

As part of the move, the police dispatchers were trained to handle additional duties of first aid and fire dispatching. “They really were earning that pay raise,” Davignon said.

North Tonawanda decided to eliminate the department to avoid costly technology upgrades and employee salaries and benefits that have cost $448,000 a year.

In the department transfer deal, the county chose not to accept full seniority, said North Tonawanda Common Council President Richard Andres.

“We didn’t have any say over that,” he said.

The city agreed, however, to cover full salary costs last year and this year. In the three years ahead, the city will pay decreasing percentages of the salaries: 75 percent in 2014, 50 percent in 2015 and 25 percent in 2016. The Sheriff’s Office will cover the balance and, eventually, the full amount.

If the court ruling stands, dispatchers will win retroactive pay increases, and North Tonawanda will be responsible for its portion of the costs, Andres said.

“The view from the city is even if the cost is up slightly, the long-term benefits are such that it is still a huge benefit,” he said.