Town, Firefighters Reach New Contract

OCEAN CITY – The Town of Ocean City and its firefighter-paramedic un-ion last week completed their first successful contract negotiation since the successful referendum for binding interest arbitration last fall.

During the municipal election last November, the Career Firefighter Par-amedics Association of Ocean City, or IAFF Local 4269, was successful in its bid for potential third-party binding interest arbitration which could be utilized to resolve issues during contract negotiations.

Last week, the two parties successfully reached a new three-year contract without relying on a third-party arbitrator in the first negotiations since the possibility for collective bargaining was approved by the town’s voters.

Following the challenging, but cordial, contract negotiations, both sides were pleased to have reached a deal without resorting to a third-party arbitrator.

“Collective bargaining with binding arbitration is a time-consuming, expensive and challenging process,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “However, I believe we have negotiated a responsible agreement, reached through compromise by both parties that address the principle objectives of both the IAFF and the town.”

For his part, IAFF President Ryan Whittington agreed the contract negotiations were often challenging but said he was pleased with the outcome.

“The IAFF is pleased to have reached a deal,” he said. “The negotiations took a tremendous amount of work from both sides over more than six weeks. Both sides put in the time and the energy necessary to work through difficult issues, and the parties communicated better and were more motivated to reach a deal than in past negotiations. The process worked, in no small part, because the recent binding interest arbitration charter helped moved the parties towards a resolution of their own.”

In February 2016, contract negotiations between the town and the IAFF broke down largely due to a controversial shift change proposal. Most Ocean City paramedics for years have worked 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 remained adamant about phasing out the 24-72 shift rotation in favor of an alternative 12-hour shift or some hybrid of the two.

After months of often contentious negotiation, the town and the IAFF this February reached an 11th-hour agreement on the new contract which, among other things, included a compromise of sorts on the shift rotation issue with two 10-hour day shifts followed by two 14-hour night shifts.

Throughout much of last year, as the negotiations over the new contract continued with no accord reached on the proposed shift change, IAFF members began collecting signatures from resort voters seeking to get a referendum question that would provide binding interest arbitration for the union, similar to that currently enjoyed by their FOP brethren.

The contract successfully negotiated last week reflects a compromise of sorts on the controversial scheduling issue.

“The new agreement will change the fire department’s schedule to improve service by utilizing, at its core, four 24-hour and six 12-hour shifts each week,” said Whittington. “The result is more stable staffing, particularly for weekends. The change also better accommodates the staffing flexibility necessary for the town. The change reflects a compromise by the IAFF, which hopes for further improvement in the future.”

Meehan agreed the contract completed last week met the union’s sche-duling needs while recognizing the town’s concerns.

“This agreement recognizes the importance of the career path of our firefighter-paramedics and funds steps in each of the three years of this agreement. It also addresses the safety issues the council has while at the same time allowing some flexibility in the schedule that the IAFF was looking for.”

Meehan said the controversy surrounding the prior three-year contract and the subsequent referendum for binding interest arbitration did not signal any animosity between the town and its firefighter-paramedics, but rather was a reflection of the challeng-es of the process.

“We have a great deal of respect for the members of the IAFF, and the bargaining team that represented the union throughout this process, and look forward to continuing this relationship through the term of this agreement and beyond,” he said.

Whittington said members of IAFF 4269, Ocean City Career Firefighter Paramedics Association had already voted to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement with the Town of Ocean City.

The new agreement also provides employees with wage enhancements, improves access to leave, and generally updates the prior agreement.

“The three-year agreement will take effect on July 1, 2019, although certain provisions will go into effect earlier, in advance of the season,” he said. “The vote wraps up negotiations between the IAFF and the town and reflects a successful process.”

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.