Early Ocean City Union Contract Extension Called ‘Historic’; Signed Agreement Bypasses Collective Bargaining Process

Early Ocean City Union Contract Extension Called ‘Historic’; Signed Agreement Bypasses Collective Bargaining Process
This week's contract signing is pictured. Photo by Shawn Soper

OCEAN CITY — After negotiations called “historic,” resort officials this week inked an amended contract that improves wages and benefits for its firefighter-paramedic union and extends it out three years.

The current International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 4269 labor agreement was set to expire on June 30, 2024. The looming deadline would have set in motion lengthy negotiations through the collective bargaining process between the union, the Mayor and Council and their attorneys.

However, in a break from tradition, the IAFF Local 4269 President Ryan Whittington approached City Manager Terry McGean and the Mayor and Council about a somewhat informal process to engage in a non-binding limited re-opening of the agreement to negotiate an extension.

Traditionally, collective bargaining labor agreement negotiations can become acrimonious with battles over the finer points. With the extension approved on Monday, the somewhat informal negotiations were described a harmonious. The Mayor and Council agreed to sit down at the table with the IAFF leadership to work out the details of the extension in an informal setting while taking a deeper dive into some of the issues. The result was the document signed by IAFF leaders and the council and city manager on Monday.

“Some time ago, President Whittington approached the Mayor and Council and the city manager about amending the existing IAFF contract,” said McGean. “We all decided the best approach was to look at it a little more informally instead of locking ourselves in the conference room with two lawyers.”

The agreement signed on Monday extends the existing IAFF contract through June 2027. Typically, the town and the union collectively bargain for a new IAFF contract in three-year cycles, but the informal extension reached this week bypasses that process, according to McGean. “This amendment, if approved, means we’re going to skip an entire collective bargaining cycle,” he said.
“This will take us through 2027. It includes step increases, additional benefits for those hired after 2013 and the pension fund is assured to be in good shape.”

The Mayor and Council agreed to negotiate an extension with the stipulation the only issues that would be discussed were wages, health and welfare and pension plans. In one fairly recent collective bargaining cycle between the Mayor and Council, for example, resort officials argued for and got an amended shift schedule that rankled the firefighter-paramedics and threatened to derail the negotiations.

This time around in a more informal setting, there was no such tension. The agreement inked on Monday includes pay increases, increases contributions to the pension plan by IAFF members, provides a Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) and extends retiree healthcare benefits to those hired after 2013 among other things.

Whittington said union membership thanked the town’s negotiation team and would gladly sign the document.

“Your firefighter-paramedics and fire marshals are pleased to sign this agreement,” he said. “I would say the conversations were historic. It came out of a shared purpose. It was historic.”

Whittington the 49 voting union members voted to approve the amended IAFF contract.

“It was unanimous,” he said. “I think we’ve proven to improve service delivery through a cooperative and productive relationship. I promise to keep those relationships going.”

Whittington said by negotiating in good faith, the union team and town officials were successful in bypassing the laborious collective bargaining process, resulting in what will be a better delivery of emergency services for residents and visitors.

“Our fire department benefits from productive partnerships between our government leaders and its employees,” he said. “This partnership has been promoted by our current council, the city manager and the fire chief. The cooperation leads to more effective and efficient delivery of emergency services. It comes from, and continues, an increasingly harmonious relationship between all of those charged with keeping residents and visitors safe. This cooperation arises from a union that steadfastly works to identify the most pressing issues for its membership and to identify solutions to those issues.”

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.