Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

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It will be quite the photo op come April 2, or the days before, as Pepsi banners, products and vending machines are quickly removed in Ocean City and replaced by those bearing the name of Coca-Cola, which successfully outbid its familiar rival for the town’s beverage franchise this week.

Back when Ocean City first went the way of an official drink, it was quite controversial. There were cries that the city was selling out and going overly commercial at the time. I actually recall thinking quite the opposite. That it was a creative way to raise money at that time and was clearly the wave of the future. In the case of this week’s announcement, it appears Coca-Cola simply gave the resort more in its bid than Pepsi did. Loyalty and a 10-year relationship with Pepsi only went so far in the end.

Along these lines, these sorts of commercial sponsorships are growing increasingly popular in all aspects of business. It’s sort of similar to a trend in the newspaper industry where periodicals reluctantly began offering front-page advertising. It’s not something publishers necessarily desired to offer, but turning a blind eye to the revenue potential was not smart business either.

That’s why I have long thought Ocean City ought to allocate resources to seeking sponsorships for its major events, which typically lose money for the city but tend to bring people to town and subsequently assist the private sector. Sure, there is a little cheese involved with Nestle’s Winterfest of Lights, Miller Lite’s Sunfest or Bel-Art’s Art’s Alive, but sponsorship dollars would surely help offset some of the expenses involved with the events.

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It’s still unknown exactly how far the union movement will progress among municipal employees, but there appears to be a general sentiment that the Mayor and Council will not decide this matter.

It needs to be made clear here that the council has the authority to make the call, as it did when it extended collective bargaining rights without binding interest arbitration to paramedics and fire personnel a few years after the Fraternal Order of Police scored similar rights at the ballot box but with binding interest arbitration.

The key at the time for the council was that the EMS folks were not seeking binding interest arbitration. Consequently, a public vote was held and it easily passed. It’s unclear if the employees at the forefront of this simmering union movement would be willing to accept the same deal. It’s worth recalling that at least a few of the current council members were not in elected office when that decision was made, and this council may not be of the same mindset.

Last week, Council President Jim Hall and Councilwoman Margaret Pillas seemed intent on giving voters the say on whether to grant organization rights to employees. If that opinion prevails over a majority of the council, which is likely, another consideration here is whether the council will require town employees to go the petition route, which would require them to obtain 20 percent of the registered voters before it could be placed on the ballot as a referendum.

Sooner or later, it’s assumed the council will discuss this issue in public, but you know what they say about people who make assumptions.

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Foreign students looking to spend the summer in Ocean City will most likely have to find a new sponsor, as the State Department has banned the Council for Educational Travel USA (CETUSA) from bringing foreign students to this country.

The decision is a result of a five-month investigation of an incident last summer in Hershey, Pa. where about 400 foreign workers were employed in Hershey’s chocolate packing plant. During the height of the summer season, hundreds of those workers carried out a walkout from the plant protesting low pay and unhealthy working conditions.

CETUSA was the sponsor of those workers, and the feds clearly sent a message to it and other organizations like it that they have to be more attuned to what their participants are going through and their working conditions. CETUSA, like dozens of other private companies, participate in the State Department’s summer work program that requires it to monitor these foreign students.

As a result of the Hershey incident, the State Department is planning to issue new regulations documenting the list of occupations prohibited for foreign summer workers. The list, according to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, will reportedly include most construction jobs and others shown to be hazardous.

“We want to make sure that sponsors are not putting the labor aspect in the primary position, when it should be the cultural aspect,” Rick Ruth, acting deputy assistant secretary of state, told the New York Times.

According to Ruth, who said the federal government will boost program oversight through the hiring of additional employees, the probe found foreign worker complaints were largely ignored by CETUSA and even met with threats over Visas being cancelled if the workers became too vocal.

On the Ocean City front, the local ramifications are unclear. This week’s news obviously means CETUSA will not be involved this summer, and it’s the chief sponsor for most foreign workers who come here.

Yesterday’s call to regional manager Annemarie Conestabile, who has been involved with foreign workers for years in Ocean City, was not returned prior to deadline.

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