OCEAN CITY – Union rights for general employees is a no go, as the citizens said it was not the time, but spirits were high this week as the new council is seeking to immediately re-establish the general employees’ faith in their elected officials.
At Tuesday’s election, voters chose to vote against the referendum question on this year’s Ocean City municipal ballot. The referendum asked if the town charter should be amended to allow all town department employees the right to collective bargaining.
Currently, emergency service employees have collective bargaining rights and specifically the Ocean City Police Department has collective bargaining with binding interest arbitration.
On Tuesday night, the election and referendum results were read aloud almost three hours after the polls were closed. There were 931 votes for the question and 1,723 against the organization effort.
Also, Mayor Rick Meehan, Councilman Doug Cymek and Councilwoman Mary Knight were re-elected, as well as Joe Mitrecic and Dennis Dare will be joining the council. Council President Jim Hall and Councilman Joe Hall, two leading members of the council majority for the past two years, did not receive enough votes to keep their seats on the council, finishing in fifth and seventh place, respectively.
“I am glad the citizens signed the petition to give us chance to put it on the ballet. I was hoping we would have had more votes than we got, but I am grateful to the citizens of Ocean City for just giving us a chance to have a shot at this, and I am very glad of the council’s change. I think things are going to calm down in Ocean City now,” Greg DeMarco of the Ocean City Employee Coalition said on Wednesday.
Following the last Ocean City municipal elections in October of 2010 the new majority of the council, consisting of Joe Hall, Brent Ashley, Jim Hall and Margaret Pillas, moved a number of ordinances forward that changed the salary and benefits for new general employees.
By the beginning of 2012, rumors began to spread that general employees intended to pursue collective bargaining, and by February city employees packed council chambers to reveal their concerns and intentions and returned in April to remind the council that they have not backed down in their efforts.
The Ocean City Employee Coalition group was formed and stated it sought equality, job security, consistency in rules and regulations, but most importantly an advocate.
On June 28, DeMarco served the City Clerk’s Office with a petition entitled “Petition for Town of Ocean City Charter Amendment for Fair and Equal Representation Rights for the General Employees of the Town of Ocean City”.
The petition gathered 2,362 signatures, of which 783 signatures were deemed invalid and 1,579 signatures were valid, and the Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to place the referendum question on the ballot.
“We are going to put this dark era behind us and I think everything is just going to get better for everybody, for the citizens, for the employees and for the town,” DeMarco said. “It has been a long two years, it really has but I have no plans at this moment to resume a drive for collective bargaining. I am happy that it was a sweep for the council, and I really think things are going to get better for everyone, not just the employees, for the whole community … we are all just going to benefit from this and I think we are going to get our town back the way it should be.”
The new council’s feelings are mutual and feel with the former majority put to the side the general employees’ faith can be restored in the Mayor and City Council.
“I truly think we can work with the employees to prove there was not a need for the union and I look forward to doing that as a full council,” Cymek said on Tuesday.
Knight agreed saying she believes the new council will be able to work with the employees in re-gaining trust and referred to the current strategic planning process City Manager David Recor is conducting to prioritize Ocean City’s business and goals into the future.
“With the strategic plan, the employee issue is addressed. I know that they will build the feeling again that they are appreciated, that we trust them, and that they are safe. So there is nothing immediately that I want to do besides accomplish those three things with the employees,” Knight said.
Mayor Rick Meehan said he was surprised by the lack of votes for the referendum compared to the number of votes placed for the Mayor and City Council.
“I didn’t vote for the union, but I have a great deal of respect for the city employees and with this new council in place we will be able to re-establish their faith in the council, and we will be able to work with them and work together to resolve any issues that may be outstanding and let them know that they are part of the team in Ocean City, and we are going to work hard to all work together,” the mayor said.