Ocean City Today

FOP, city ratify three-year deal

Cost-of-living, step increases, earlier retirement age part of new police pact with resort
By Greg Ellison | May 10, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison Ocean City officials pose with members of the Fraternal Order of Police negotiation team during a signing ceremony for a three-year collective bargaining agreement on Monday.

(May 11, 2018) Despite nearly reaching an impasse during labor contract negotiations in late February, the mayor and City Council ratified a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police for more than $1.1 million on Monday.

FOP Lodge 10 President Joe Bushnell said the process played out in similar fashion to contract discussions in 2015, when a stalemate almost triggered binding arbitration.

“We present a list of things we want and slowly whittle it down to the big issues,” he said. “At the end of four days, we hadn’t reached an agreement.”

City Manager Doug Miller said the contract meetings involved extensive give and take.

“There was aggressive bargaining on both sides,” he said. “Their negotiation team was very well organized.”

While talks were amicable, Bushnell said by early March the police bargaining unit felt the chasm was too wide and arbitration appeared imminent.

“We filed an intent to go to arbitration,” he said.

After laying its cards on the table, Bushnell said the city kept the lines of communication open to avoid taking matters further.

“We we’re kind of far apart [but] they came back with a new last-best final offer,” he said. “The previous negotiations got to the same point [and] almost the exact same thing happened.”

After reviewing the offer, the police union membership voted 96 percent in favor of the finalized contract, Bushnell said.

Miller said among the larger challenges were the cost-of-living-adjustments and modifying pay step scales.

“One of the concerns was they … would prefer to get a step (pay increase) every year,” he said.

The new agreement, which runs from this July until June 30, 2021, includes $687,324 for wages and incidental expenses.

Included in the terms are yearly one-step pay scale progressions for eligible employees each January, along with a one percent cost-of-living-adjustment in 2019, which becomes two-percent the last two years of the agreement.

“They were willing to adjust the step table to make it happen,” Miller said. “The percentage of increase isn’t as great, but there are more steps in the program.”

Retirement benefits were another linchpin in the discussions, Miller said, with the ratified contract including $480,000 for pension benefits.

Unlike city employees, who receive matching funds for individual retirement accounts, Miller said police union members have a defined benefit plan.

“When [municipal employees] retire, we have ‘X’ number of dollars [that] we have to live on and manage that,” he said. “Police have defined benefits which [gives] ‘X’ dollars for life.”

Miller said the current defined benefit plan provided less generous terms for newer police recruits, who were eligible to retire after 25 years of service, but unlike their predecessors, were also required to be at least age 55

“We took away the 55-year-old  age requirement,” he said. “[Now] the officers get to retire a little bit sooner.”

Although contract negotiations ventured near a precipice, Bushnell said both sides opted to pull back from the edge.

“We have never gone to arbitration,” he said “We’ve always been able to work it out.”

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