Ocean City Today

Firefighter paramedic union contract issues goes to vote

By Katie Tabeling | Dec 28, 2017
Source: File photo City Manager Doug Miller, left, and Mayor Rick Meehan sign the three-year agreement with the local firefighter/paramedic union during the March 20 regular session. The city and the union’s bargaining team also put their collective signatures on the contract.

(Dec. 29, 2017) Although a labor contract was signed this year, Ocean City voters will decide on Nov. 8, 2018 whether the local firefighter/paramedic union should be able to turn to binding interest arbitration when contract negotiations reach an impasse.

On March 2, the International Association of Fire Fighters turned in a petition to put binding interest arbitration on the ballot, thus allowing voters to decide whether an independent arbitrator could settle labor disputes between the city and the union.

Less than two weeks later, the City Council and the fire union signed a deal that included the contentious new schedule that both parties battled over in 2016. That impasse inspired local union President Ryan Whittington and other members to launch the petition.

The schedule implemented in November included two 10-hour day shifts and two 14-hour night shifts, followed by four days off. That replaced the longstanding practice of 24 hours on, 72 hours off.

Union members also received a $50,000 bonus on Oct. 1, to offset any costs of switching to the new shift. On average, the bonus breaks down to $1,282 per employee. Employees were also eligible for a short time to enter the city’s deferred retirement option plan, which is eligible for employees that had earned 25 years of service for pension benefits.

One month after the contract was signed, the Board of Elections determined that the petition had enough signatures to force a referendum. Maryland law requires that 20 percent of voters, or 1,213 voters in Ocean City would have to sign the petition.

The IAFF’s petition had 1,656 signatures, with 242 declared invalid.

At the time, the City Council had voted unanimously to accept the results without comment on whether the question would be posed during a special election. It was days before the June 20 deadline before the City Council revisited the matter.

The council deadlocked at first on holding a special election at the cost of $12,000 in August, with Council President Lloyd Martin absent from the proceedings. Councilmen Wayne Hartman and Matt James reversed their votes on June 19, and set the referendum next year with a 6-0 vote. Councilman John Gehrig was absent.

Both Hartman and James claimed that more time would give the city a chance to better educate voters.

The last time Ocean City held a special election for a referendum question was on April 28, 1998. The question before the voters then was whether to construct a multipurpose facility at Northside Park. It passed 954 to 577.

Turnout was solid when union-related ballot questions were put before voters during the resort’s general election. In 2002, residents voted 1,090 to 927 to award the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 10 collective bargaining with binding arbitration.


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