OCEAN CITY — The Town of Ocean City and its career firefighter-paramedic union formally ratified the new contract in a brief but cordial ceremony on Monday, and each vowed to move beyond the contentious negotiations, but it is clear some underlying tension remains.
Late last month, the town officials and the Career Firefighter Paramedics Association or Ocean City, or IAFF Local 4269, reached an agreement on a three-year contract that included concessions for both sides. Most Ocean City paramedics currently 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 and its fire department leadership remained adamant about phasing out the 24-72 shift rotation in favor of an alternative 12-hour shift or some hybrid of the two. The contract agreed upon represents a compromise with two 10-hour day shifts followed by two 14-hour night shifts.
Although the new contract was formally ratified Monday, the underlying tension regarding the shift rotation changes remains. For example, just two days after the parties reached the 11th-hour agreement, the IAFF submitted a petition seeking a referendum for binding arbitration.
At the formal signing on Monday, however, members of both parties were cordial for the most part and vowed to make the new contract work in the best interest of everyone. IAFF President Ryan Whittington said the negotiation process was long and not everyone got what they wanted.
“It wasn’t an easy road to get there,” he said. “We definitely would have liked to see it get done much sooner. … The boots on the ground firefighter-paramedics do not feel that the biggest impasse we had over the schedule is taking us in the right direction. Nonetheless, as president of the IAFF, we are committed to making this work in the best interest of public safety.”
Whittington vowed to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“Mr. Mayor, when you spoke with the media after we signed it, you made it clear that we will make this a smooth transition,” he said. “As part of that, I am committed to keeping that communication and dialogue open not just with the bargaining team, but with the entire Mayor and Council so you guys know what’s going on.”
Whittington then addressed the residents and visitors to Ocean City, promising a continued high level of service.
“To the citizens, we ratified this contract because we realize perpetual conflict is not good for our fire department, not good for our citizens and not good for overall morale,” he said. “I can assure you as IAFF president we are going to continue our core goal, and that is delivering exceptional customer service.”
Whittington said the IAFF will work through the transition to the shift rotation changes and vowed there would be no drop in service.
“When you call 911 and that ambulance or fire truck responds, you can bet the firefighter-paramedics are going to be on their A game. You are going to get nothing but top-notch service,” he said.
The IAFF president also promised to keep residents and visitors in the loop as the department transitions to the new shift schedule.
“Just as I promise we’re going to communicate openly with the Mayor and Council, I will do the same with you, letting you know the pros and cons after I inform them as well,” he said. “We will be there for you, your family and those that come to visit you.”
For his part, Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged the negotiations were difficult, but said the finished product best represented the needs of all involved.
“There were a lot of hours put into this and some of these decisions were difficult,” he said. “I think we came to a contract that is going to work well for both the employees and the town of Ocean City along with our citizens and visitors.”
Like Whittington, Meehan promised the transition to the new elements in the contract would be a smooth one.
“We’re committed to that,” he said. “I’m not going to look back, I want to look forward. My glass is always half-full rather than half-empty, and I think it’s time to really approach this in a positive manner and find how we can make things work and how we can’t.”
During the process, there were times when the town’s firm stance on the shift change seemed to suggest public safety was somehow compromised under the old 24-72 rotation, but Meehan said the service provided by the firefighter-paramedics was never in doubt.
“The service provided to our residents and visitors is exceptional and I know it will continue to be exceptional,” he said. “The members of the IAFF do an exceptional job and that was never in question. What we want to do is build this department for the future, not just for today.”
Meehan said with the ink already drying on the new contract, it was time to move forward and not look back.
“We want to work with you to do that so we can continue to enhance the service we provide to this community,” he said.