Meriden Dispatcher Dedicated to Public Safety

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Council 4 members have embodied Ernest Hemingway’s classic definition of courage as grace under pressure.

For Meriden public safety dispatcher Betty Marotti, grace under pressure has meant working 72-88 work weeks with no breaks or time off for rest.

Marotti is the president of AFSCME Local 1303-405, which is currently comprised of only seven full-time dispatchers—11 short of the full complement of positions approved within the Department of Emergency Communications budget.

Inadequate staffing, combined with a tone-deaf management approach to permitting time off during the coronavirus crisis, has left Marotti and her co-workers spending the vast majority of their waking hours at the Dispatch Center. Understandably, they are feeling infinitely more tired than courageous.

 “We’re in the middle of a public safety crisis,” Marotti said. “Short staffing puts dispatchers and the community we serve at risk.”

Marotti grew up in Meriden and has been dispatching since the age of 18. She has been a city employee for nearly 17 years.

“I always wanted to be a dispatcher and help people,” she recently reflected during a rare break from the action. “That’s who I am.”

Meriden’ emergency communications dispatchers responded to approximately 60,200 calls last year. As they will tell you, dispatching by nature is an occupation characterized by controlled chaos. It requires calmness, empathy, quick thinking and the ability to multi-task. It also requires a finely tuned sense of teamwork.

“It’s everybody working together to get the optimal outcome,” Marotti said. “No one person is a hero. We’re just doing our job.”

Dispatching by nature is an unpredictable occupation. “One phone call can change everything,” is how Marotti describes it. “You can go from zero to 150 miles an hour in seconds.”

Working as a dispatcher also leaves you with indelible memories—good and bad, horrific and uplifting. Marotti remembers plenty of those heart-palpitating calls for help.

A few years ago, a hiker took a serious fall off the Castle Craig mountain trail at Hubbard Park. Marotti fielded the call as he floated in an out of consciousness and stayed on the line with him for 40 minutes until the Fire Department personnel were able to locate and rescue the hiker.

There are of course calls that can haunt dispatchers. Marotti vividly remembers the conversation she had with a 13-year-old girl who came home to find that her 15-year old sister had committed suicide.

“I have never forgotten the call,” Marotti reflected.

Right now, Marotti, Vice President Mark Bateman and the members of Local 1303-405 are fighting through a staffing crisis that has been artificially created in large part by the questionable actions of Doree Price, who heads Meriden’s Emergency Communications Department.

On June 23, Council 4 filed a Municipal Prohibited Practice (MPP) complaint on behalf of Local 1303-405 against the City of Meriden. In the complaint, Council 4 alleges the City has broken labor law by retaliating against Marotti for writing grievances and standing up for her fellow staff.  

“This situation is simply unacceptable,” said Council 4 Staff Representative Chuck Paris. “The Director of Emergency Communications is not only failing to advocate for the staff, but she’s pouring gasoline on the fire by ignoring all reasonable requests for time off and targeting union members for speaking up. The work environment is toxic. 

The Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations has received Council 4’s complaint and will is expected to hold an information hearing soon.

  • Click here for press coverage of the dispatchers' concerns over safe staffing.

The fact that Council 4 is fighting for the local union through legal and public advocacy is something Marotti and her colleagues appreciate. To her, the union is not just about better wages and benefits.  “If it wasn’t for AFSCME, I’d be out of a job,” she said. “That’s what the union does. It supports you and has your back.”

Throughout the turmoil of COVID-19 and inadequate staffing, Marotti remains a beacon of dedication and determination.

“It’s fulfilling to know the people in the town where you grew up are safe,” she reflected. “It’s not about accolades. It’s about making a difference to help someone. Our passion is for [ensuring] the safety of the community.”