OCEAN CITY — Ocean City voters resoundingly approved a charter amendment this week allowing binding interest arbitration for the town’s firefighter-paramedic union.
When Ocean City voters hit the polls on Tuesday, appearing on the ballot was a referendum question which, if approved, would allow for binding interest arbitration for the Career Firefighter Paramedics Association of Ocean City, or local IAFF 4269. The charter amendment would essentially allow a third-party arbitrator to resolve impasses during contract negotiations between the union and the town.
The IAFF already had the right to bargain collectively during contract negotiations with the town, but a positive endorsement from the voters on Tuesday would add binding interest arbitration to the negotiation tool box for the firefighter-paramedics.
As the votes were announced from each of the town’s seven voting machines, it became clear which way the final decision was heading. When the results from the last machine were announced and the absentee ballots were added, the referendum passed by a vote of 1,288 to 1,048. The IAFF members were jubilant when it became clear the voters had endorsed the charter amendment.
“Yesterday [Tuesday] was a victorious day for the Ocean City firefighter-paramedics,” said IAFF 4269 President Ryan Whittington. “Ocean City residents voted to grant us binding interest arbitration. Two years ago today, we were collecting signatures and educating everyone on the issues and the importance of this charter amendment.”
Whittington said the positive outcome was the culmination of two years of work by union members and supporters.
“Along our two-year journey, so many of the people I work with stepped up to complete tasks, give advice, support our PAC fund and live through the crazy adventure of a campaign,” he said. “We are stronger together and the men and women of the three divisions of the Ocean City fire department truly define solidarity.”
During what was a somewhat contentious lead-up to Tuesday’s election, the town asserted granting binding interest arbitration would essentially leave critical negotiation impasses in the hands of a neutral, third-party arbitrator and could have an impact on property tax rates. The union countered binding interest arbitration was a measure of last resort of sorts when impasses could not be resolved and dismissed the notion the arbitrator when needed would not be an “outsider” as town officials asserted. When the votes were counted on Tuesday and the public’s opinion was measured, it became clear the town was ready to move forward.
“As for the charter amendment, it was no secret the Mayor and Council has been concerned about the consequences of binding interest arbitration,” said Mayor Rick Meehan this week. “Having said that, our paramedic-firefighters worked hard for the charter amendment and our community voted to make a change. I support our employees and I look forward to working with them moving forward.”
Councilman Matt James, who was re-elected on Tuesday, had the unique position of both sitting on the council and being a volunteer firefighter.
“I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “They did an amazing job. When you look at the absentee numbers, they won by around five, but when you started looking at each machine, that’s where they really started to pull away. That’s because of the hard work they put in on election day. They had a lot of people out there and they had a great message.”