‘Fair Deal’ Avoids Arbitration Over Union Contract; FOP Ratifies Three-Year Accord

‘Fair Deal’ Avoids Arbitration Over Union Contract; FOP Ratifies Three-Year Accord

OCEAN CITY – A clean slate will remain between the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 10 (FOP) and the Town of Ocean City as a tentative agreement was accepted Wednesday afternoon that will avoid arbitration, which has never happened in the bargaining unit’s history.

FOP President Shawn Jones confirmed as of 4 p.m. Wednesday the majority of the FOP membership voted to accept the contract terms proposed by the Town of Ocean City.

Negotiations between the FOP and Town of Ocean City had come to an impasse two weeks ago and the FOP’s legal counsel had contacted City Solicitor Guy Ayres indicating the membership had voted to go to arbitration if the city was not willing to reconsider.

“Unfortunately, we are so far apart from where our membership feels we need to be. In 2008, we conceded our Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA)…so we are going on seven years without that type of adjustment,” Jones said at that time. “We negotiated for four and half days and just weren’t able to come close to an agreement.”

Following the announcement of potential arbitration, FOP leadership was invited to sit down with members of the Mayor and City Council in an informal setting.

“They were not formal negotiations, more of sidebar conversations. They indicated to us they were interested in reaching an agreement without going to arbitration and we agreed. It is in the best interest of everybody if we could come to a compromise,” Jones said. “The ability to sit down and have conversation with the Mayor and City Council one-on-one provided the opportunity for mutual understanding from our perspective and theirs as to what is important in this deal. Once the wheels started turning, it moved ahead pretty rapidly.”

Toward the end of last week, the town proposed a tentative three-year agreement with the FOP.

“Our negotiation team agreed with the city’s proposal and at that point we brought it back to the membership for a ratification vote, and the results of that were finalized today,” Jones said. “An overwhelming majority voted to ratify, which means to accept the contract.”

The details will be released when the formal document is presented to the Mayor and City Council during an upcoming regular session on a Monday evening when the council will vote to approve.

Without going into specifics, Jones explained the agreement includes similar language to previous contracts regarding working conditions as well as a provision for a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) and annual step increments.

“It is a fair deal based on the state of the economy and CPI [Consumer Price Index],” Jones said. “We are not afraid to go arbitration. Arbitration exists to keep both sides honest. It keeps us bargaining in good faith on both sides of the table. I wholeheartedly believe we would have gone through with it if some of the numbers would have not been moved financially. We didn’t get everything we were asking for but at the end the day it was a compromise that benefits the majority of our bargaining unit members.”

Mayor Rick Meehan was pleased to hear the news on Wednesday afternoon that the majority of the FOP voted to accept the tentative three-year agreement.

“It is good news. I don’t think either side of the negotiation was looking to go towards arbitration but both were prepared to do so. The fact that we were able to resolve this issue before it got to that stage shows a lot of hard work on both sides. I am glad that we were able to come to an agreement,” Meehan said.

The FOP negotiated its first contract in 2004 after a hard-fought referendum was approved by city voters and in over 10 years the point of arbitration has never been reached.

Both the FOP and International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 4269 last reached union contract agreements in February 2013. The FOP is under a two-year contract while the IAFF is under a three-year contract. The Fire Department’s contract expires next year and will head toward negotiations at that time.

The current two-year contract between the FOP and Town of Ocean City expires July 1. If the council votes to approve the tentative agreement, the new three-year contract will run from July 1, 2015 to July 1, 2018.