Emory Bryan, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Tulsa is running short on 911 operators and a solution to the problem is held up in contract talks.

The impasse has left the 911 operators working without a raise or a contract, and without the raise in place, the City says it can't recruit new people to fully staff the 911 center.

The only call takers at the 911 center who aren't affected are those who work for EMSA. They're not part of the city employees union.

The other call takers and dispatchers work for the city through the only union still without a contact.

"We have no choice but to push on for arbitration," said Michael Rider.

Union President Michael Rider says 911 employees need better pay across the board - while the city is offering a substantial increase for new employees and a smaller increase for existing staff.

"They've thrown some money at the starting salary, but nothing to make it across the board to make it fair for everyone, and retain those employees that they have," Rider said.

The City says the stress of the job burns out many new 911 dispatchers, while some finish the training then go find better paying similar jobs elsewhere.

"We have a retention issue. We feel our starting pay is too low to attract the caliber of people who are capable of doing the job and sticking with it," Jim Twombly, Tulsa City Manager, said.

Twombly says the 911 center is usually short by 11 employees. They're trying to both make the job more attractive with better pay, and avoid having new employees make more than those with experience.

"The starting pay is below market and I think that all of them are below market, but the starting pay is much more out of line with the market, Twombly said.

Both the union and the city believe they're not very far apart on talks -- and even though the arbitration process is underway -- they hope to reach a negotiated agreement within a few weeks.