UPDATE: Contract Deadline Passes Without Accord Between Firefighters Union, City; Current Contract Runs To June 30

UPDATE: Contract Deadline Passes Without Accord Between Firefighters Union, City; Current Contract Runs To June 30
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OCEAN CITY — The deadline for a new labor contract between the Town of Ocean City and its firefighters union expired at midnight on Monday with no break in the impasse over the proposed work schedules, resulting in both sides walking away and the town’s “best and last offer” essentially becoming the new contract by default.

Since late January, the Town of Ocean City has been in negotiations for a new contract with the Career Firefighter Paramedics Association of Ocean City, IAFF Local 4269. The current contract expires on June 30 and the two sides have been working on a new deal that includes a variety of elements, but the stumbling block that ultimately derailed the negotiations was a proposed change in the scheduling for the resort’s paramedics.

Currently, the paramedics work in 24-hour shifts, followed by 72 hours off. However, citing potential fatigue and hindered decision-making in critical situations, slower response times on late night and early morning calls and even a handful of missed or dropped calls over the last few years, the town remains adamant about moving away from the 24-hour shifts followed by 72 hours off, or 24-72 in negotiation parlance. Instead, the town was pushing for something different, including 12-hour shifts with mixed days off, or some sort of hybrid that would address the perceived fatigue issue and ensuring the highest level of service for residents and visitors.

However, the union countered the 24-72 scheduling system has been in place for years and has not contributed to slower response times, pointing out the fire department’s remarkable record. The union also countered the seasoned veteran paramedics have become accustomed to the 24-72 scheduling and changing it now would disrupt family lives and schedules, for example.

With the clock ticking on the midnight deadline for a new deal on Monday, the two sides met again late Monday afternoon, but no agreement was reached on the scheduling issue, which essentially derailed the negotiations. As a result, the current contract will remain in place until June 30, at which time the town’s “best and final offer,” including the abolition of the 24-72 scheduling plan, will essentially become the new contract.

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The proposed contract contained other elements, including a proposed step and COLA increase and an early drop program for veteran paramedics. However, those elements never made it to the table as the negotiations broke down over the scheduling issue. Mayor Rick Meehan said late Tuesday afternoon the impasse was disappointing.

“Unfortunately, we were not able to reach an agreement before midnight last night,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate. Our goal was to reach an agreement with the union we could all live with. I’ve sat through a number of union negotiations and we’ve always been able to come to an agreement. In this case, we were not and that’s very unfortunate.”

Meehan said despite the stalemate, there was no animosity over the failed negotiations.

“We hold the men and women of the paramedics division in the highest regard and that hasn’t changed because of this,” he said. “They are a dedicated, emotional and efficient crew, but the Mayor and Council feel strongly we need to move away from the 24-hour shifts.”

While the default “best and last” contract includes eliminating the 24-hour shifts, it also includes the proposed step and COLA salary increases, which will cost the town roughly $250,000 in salary increases over the life of the contract, along with the drop program for veteran paramedics and other elements included voluntarily by the town. However, the scheduling change was enough to derail the negotiations for the union, which late last week hinted at a potential unfair labor practice charge.

IAFF Local 4269 President Ryan Whittington said late Tuesday eliminating the 24-72 scheduling was a deal breaker for the union.

“It’s not about the money and the long phase-in,” he said. “It’s about the health and safety of our firefighter/paramedics. Our safety is more important than money. The town will establish a task force to look at Boardwalk performers. You would think they would want to study and survey their employees as to what’s best for them.”

This story will be updated.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.