OCEAN CITY – City employees said last week they are planning on wrapping up petition efforts to gain the right to collective bargaining by the end of this month.
In the beginning of the year, rumors began to spread that general employees intended to pursue collective bargaining. In February, city employees packed council chambers to reveal their concerns and their intentions and returned in April to remind the council that they have not backed down in their efforts.
Last Thursday, Barbara Dahan of Ocean City’s Finance Department gave an update on the Ocean City Employee Coalition’s efforts in gaining signatures for a petition to amend the city charter to allow general employees the right to collective bargaining.
The town’s charter only allows for the police and fire department and paramedics to exercise collective bargaining. In order for general employees to unionize, they would have to receive approval by the City Council or collect the sufficient number of voter signatures by petition to have a referendum placed on the ballot in October to let the voters decide their fate.
According to Maryland State Law, 20 percent of Ocean City’s registered voters would have to sign the petition in order for the referendum to be placed on the ballot.
Dahan, who has worked for the city for 33 years in different entities, worked for the police in 1987 when the department was going through their own collective bargaining efforts, which were not successful until about 10 years ago.
“I feel like other people have collective bargaining, we should have it as well,” she said.
Dahan recalled it was a couple of years ago when city employees began to look toward collective bargaining when the City Council initiated talks about making personnel salary and benefits cuts to cut city expenses.
The council made some more serious moves last year by changing pay scales and benefits and that is when city employees reached out to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA) for assistance.
The Ocean City Employee Coalition has expressed a list of grievances in the past in front of the Mayor and City Council and Dahan reviewed the same complaints during a press conference last Thursday at the coalition offices off 120th Street.
The group seeks equality, job security, consistency in rules and regulations, but most importantly an advocate.
“We have no advocate when issues arrive on the job,” Dahan said. “We need somebody there to speak for us, or to be able to be on our side.”
According to Dahan, the coalition’s goal is to have the petition completed by the end of this month so that the signatures could be turned into the City Clerk to be verified as registered voters.
“When that is over with, then our goal is to get the referendum on the ballot in October. That is our ultimate goal, that is what we are striving for,” she said.
At this point, Dahan does not seem concerned with what will ensue after the elections.
“Once the voters have spoken, then we have to go from there as to the next step … the council said let the voters speak and we’ve done that, so everything that we were told that we had to do is being done,” she said.
Dahan did not know the number of signatures that have been collected so far.
“I do know we have received a lot of support from the registered votes,” she said. “For the most part, people seem to understand why we are looking for collective bargaining … I’m not worried about it. None of us can predict the future but I think that they, the people, the voters, understand what we are going through.”
Ocean City Employee Coalition members were collecting signatures just last Monday in front of City Hall prior to the Mayor and City Council meeting, and Dahan said forces will stay strong until it is time to submit the petition. She added that representatives from the AFT and MCEA have even been helping with the collection of signatures.
“They are supporting us, it is just one of the ways that they are helping to support us,” she said. “We came to them because we had no idea how to even start so we contacted them and then they offered their help. They’re experts.”
Dahan added that the general employees’ right to collective bargaining is supported across all town departments.
“We have support from all of the employees, it is not specifically one group, and it’s from all of the various groups,” she said. “It has nothing to do with their pay is or isn’t, or the lower-end, it has nothing to do with that we just want equality and that is what we feel we are not getting.”