Ocean City Today

Voters to decide arbitration in ‘18

No special election will be set for referendum on local fire union’s bargaining chip
By Katie Tabeling | Jun 22, 2017

(June 23, 2017) Opponents and proponents of allowing local government or the local firefighters’ union to turn to binding arbitration when contract negotiations reach an impasse will have until Nov. 6, 2018 election to think about it.

That’s when Ocean City voters will address the arbitration question petitioned to referendum by the union earlier this year.

During Monday’s session, the City Council agreed to put the question on the ballot next election instead of scheduling a special election on Aug. 18. The vote was 6-0, with Councilman John Gehrig absent.

The decision to put binding interest arbitration on the 2018 election apparently came before the session, as there was no further discussion on the matter on Monday. It also contrasted with earlier attitudes, since the council deadlocked on the same matter during the June 13 session.

During that meeting, Councilman Wayne Hartman argued to put the question before voters in August because he felt the issue was too important to be lumped in midterm and council elections. He was backed by Councilmen Matt James and Tony DeLuca.

Hartman said after that meeting, however, that the 3-3 vote made him do some research to back up his reasoning.

“It was a matter of homework. I looked at elections in the past with single items on the ballot to see what the turnout was, and it was always low,” he said. “Another concern of mine is trying to get people to understand the issue. By setting it at a later date, we have more of a chance to educate people. People need to be aware that binding interest arbitration means that we’ll have no control in contract negotiations.”

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

This also was the reason why James reversed his opinion on an early election.

“More time will give us a better voter turnout. People [residents] work in August. It’ll allow more time to be more educated on the issue.”

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

The turnout for the 2018 election should be at least decent considering that it also will involve three council races. Both Hartman and James are up for re-election, as is Council President Lloyd Martin. Neither James or Hartman are concerned that the referendum would affect their chances with the voters.

“I don’t think this has anything do with re-election,” James said.

“I’m not worried about it,” Hartman said. “Usually, I’m very vocal on my opinion…. I’ll be running for something.”

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