OCEAN CITY — With Ocean City’s municipal election now under two weeks away, the local firefighter and paramedic union’s effort to get a referendum question seeking binding interest arbitration on this year’s ballot has fallen short, but the signature collection process will continue.
In late February, the clock expired on negotiations between the town and the Career Firefighter Paramedics Association of Ocean City, or IAFF Local 4269, on a new three-year contract, resulting in the town’s “last, best and final” offer essentially becoming the new contract by default. The contract negotiations broke down in late February over the town’s unwavering position on eliminating the paramedics’ long-standing 24-hour shifts, which was considered a deal-breaker for the IAFF 4269.
Currently, most Ocean City paramedics work in 24-hour shifts, followed by 72 hours off. However, citing a variety of reasons, including potential missed calls, delayed responses and national trends, the town has remained adamant about phasing out the 24-72 shift rotation in favor of an alternative 12-hour shift or some hybrid of the two. While just one element of the contract between the IAFF and the town, the impasse over eliminating the 24-72 shift rotation became a point of contention for the union, forcing it to walk away from the bargaining table.
In the weeks that followed, the town and the IAFF continued to butt heads over the 24-72 shift issue, even after the town’s best and final offer became the new union contract by default. The issue came to a head in June when the IAFF announced it would seek a referendum question on the municipal election ballot in November allowing the town’s electorate to decide if the union should have the same binding interest arbitration afforded to its police union brethren.
IAFF 4269 President Ryan Whittington said this week the signature collection effort, while successful, fell short of getting the union’s proposed referendum question on the Nov. 8 ballot. The effort would require the signatures of 20 percent of the eligible voters, or roughly 1,500, but the collection efforts thus far have fallen short of that mark.
“Since June, members and supporters of the Local 4269 have been knocking on doors and talking to people on the streets, collecting signatures of a petition to amend the charter of the town of Ocean City to provide for binding interest arbitration for fire and emergency medical services personnel,” said Whittington in a statement this week. “Support for the amendment has been tremendous. To date, we have collected more than 1,000 signatures in support of the amendment. That is not enough signatures, however, to prompt a vote on the amendment at the upcoming municipal election.”
Undaunted, Whittington said the IAFF remains committed to binding interest arbitration and will continue to collect signatures during and after the November election.
“Instead, Local 4269 will continue, on and after election day, to collect signatures to reach the necessary number of signatures to have the amendment put to a vote either at a special election or the next municipal election,” he said. “The end result will be the same, an opportunity for voters to amend the charter to create a fairer and more efficient resolution to bargaining disputes to avoid protracted conflict and frustration.”
Whittington said the response from the public on the binding interest arbitration issue has been encouraging.
“Voters support the amendment,” he said. “In speaking with hundreds of voters, we have heard overwhelming positive comments about our work on behalf of residents generally, and our effort to resolve this issue, and secure this amendment, specifically,” he said. “The amendment would require binding interest arbitration to resolve bargaining impasses — a means of resolution already successful here for police personnel and successful for fire personnel in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County, among others. Voters undoubtedly recognize the value of the amendment.”
Despite falling short in the immediate effort, the IAFF’s long-term goal remains in sight.
“While Local 4269 hoped to have the amendment on the ballot at the upcoming municipal election on Nov. 8, 2016, the amendment need not be on this ballot,” he said. “Our aim is to have the amendment on the ballot and passed before the next cycle of bargaining with the town in 2019. The current cycle of bargaining has, unfortunately, been steeped in conflict and rancor. Our goal is to avoid a repeat of that by passing the amendment.”
In the meantime, the IAFF will work the polling stations on election day and beyond.
“For now, with two weeks remaining until the election, we will turn our attention to the officials and issues on the ballot,” he said. “Local leadership is now, as it has always been, important for Local 4269 and Local 4269 will focus its efforts on supporting the best and most effective leaders on the ballot. Local 4269 shall resume collecting signatures for the binding interest arbitration amendment on and after Nov. 8.”