OCEAN CITY – Members of the Ocean City Employee Coalition came before the Mayor and City Council this week to set the record straight on why general employees want to form a union.
Coalition member Gregory DeMarco approached the council to respond to Councilman Brent Ashley’s recent series of newspaper ads, commenting on current events.
A couple weeks ago, an ad headline asked, “Do The General Employees Need A Union?” It went on to outline the general employees’ health benefits, leave time, retirement benefits, plus a couple of other perks that are not usually included with private sector jobs.
“I just want to set the record straight on a couple of things … I think we have very good benefits for the town of Ocean City,” DeMarco said. “The only thing we said about our benefits is that we wanted to keep them and preserve them because they were under attack and that was one of the things that drove this whole movement.”
DeMarco added that there have been accusations made by council members that another reason for their effort to become a union is due to former City Manager Dennis Dare’s poor performance.
“We have never come in here ever and said that,” DeMarco said. “In fact, when he was dismissed there was so much fear among the workers that this was a power drive and we were next that our ranks swelled after his dismissal.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas asserted that when she was first approached by the employees over the idea of unionization one of the grievances personally expressed to her was that Dare was a problem.
“There is always an adversarial relationship between management and workers but that is anywhere you go but overall the driving force in this movement has been this majority … the ramming of the 11 [pay and benefits] ordinances through, the threatening tone of ‘we have the power now’, that is what pushed us into that direction,” DeMarco said.
During her conversation with DeMarco, Pillas quickly referred to how she is not in favor of the current contracts with unions in Ocean City and that union members should be more considerate of the taxpayer.
Joe Bushnell of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Ocean City Lodge 10 was in the audience and came to the podium to ask Pillas what she had against their union.
“How can we be more considerate?,” Bushnell asked. “I don’t know what else you want from us. We can’t give up any more raises. We can’t give up any more shift differentials. Until the majority change [on the council], all of our contracts were bargained fairly and successfully. Since this last contract with the majority change, that’s when it went to the 11th hour.”
Pillas explained that the FOP’s contract is currently on hold because salaries were frozen under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
“It is your union,” she said. “You should take care of your dues and your fees. We couldn’t give you 400 hours [negotiation time requested], which is a lot of paid time to negotiate your contract when you should do that yourself. I just don’t think the taxpayers should support that.”
Pillas added that she also didn’t agree with the labor hours to process FOP paychecks shouldn’t even be paid for by the taxpayer.
“We pay substantial legal fees ourselves,” Bushnell said in disbelief. “It is a direct deposit [paycheck]. You paid for the computer it is done on but that is done for every town employee.”
Councilman Doug Cymek, who served on a board with Council members Lloyd Martin and Mary Knight during the last FOP contract negotiation when an agreement could not be reached, commended the FOP for its sacrifices.
“We sat down with them and they passed on their contractual increases and COLA, and that wasn’t done for one year but two years,” Cymek said. “These people have gone for a long time without any kind of increase that a prior council gave to them, so I just want to stand up for them on that factor.”
Employee James Moxley asserted that he met with Pillas when the union effort began and not once was dissatisfaction expressed with Dare’s job performance.
“What we were talking about at that time was to have an outside advocate that was not under the council’s process, so we could talk to somebody that could not be hired or fired by the council or retaliated against,” he said.
Moxley asked the council members if they remembered the four specific grievances he listed when he first announced the union effort.
“I do know that you felt that there were employees in our town that were getting treated differently than the general employees, and that you felt that you work the same hours, you gave up the same sacrifices, your salaries were frozen so you want equal treatment,” she said. “I don’t feel that you were in jeopardy of your benefits or in jeopardy by the taxpayers or your representatives at all … I just don’t understand where you feel you’re not being fairly treated”
Moxley concluded by listing the other grievances of the general employees, which are job security, consistency in rules and regulations but most importantly needing an advocate.