(April 19, 2019) Although City Council members were divided in their appraisal of a new collective bargaining agreement with resort firefighters and paramedics, Union President Ryan Whittington said the negotiations were among the best he’s ever been a part of.
Whittington, a deputy fire marshal and president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4269, spoke after the City Council approved the contract by a 4-3 vote on Monday.
“I’d like to thank you for agreeing to sign this contract,” he said. “The last thing we need before our summer season kicks off is to have turmoil with our council.
“We’ve already seen that once. Our firefighter/paramedics didn’t like that. So, we appreciate the signing of this agreement.
“Previously, the firefighters had a call for help. I came before you all and I said we need your help, the schedule’s not working ... only three of you reached out to us.
“We are willing and we are able to talk with you, to meet with you. We have a task force and a committee for so many things in this town – let’s put a fire task force, [a] public safety task force, whatever it is that we can communicate with you, before we sit down for negotiations. We’re absolutely open for that.
“We appreciate open communication. That’s one thing that City Manager [Doug] Miller has been very big with, is communicating with us. Again, if it’s something you guys will consider, talk about, [or] putting your boots on the ground.
“This contract does have some major changes in it, a major change to the schedule. But that major change to the schedule will stabilize the staffing and ensure that the calls for service are answered.
“You’re putting your firefighter paramedics back into the public safety pension. That shows the council’s commitment to your firefighter paramedics in recruiting and retaining the best, top-notch employees, and that’s what we want to bring here in Ocean City and that’s what we want to keep, and that’s what we have today.
He added, “Let’s not just let the signing of this contract end the conversation. There’s a lot of conversations, a lot of concerns that all of you have. You all have my number. Whatever process we can do through the HR director [and] the city manager, let’s get it done so we can communicate with each other. We’re open for it.”
Whittington also forwarded a statement last Friday, saying the contract “concludes negotiations between the IAFF and the Town and reflects a successful process.”
“The new agreement will change the fire department’s schedule to improve service by utilizing, at its core, 24-hour and 12-hour shifts each week. 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.
“The new agreement provides employees advancement each year along the established wage scale. The agreement also provides an additional advancement in year three, to catch up employees for previously lost advancements.
“The agreement provides new stipends for bomb squad members and dive and rescue swimmers to maintain the strength of those special skill groups. Under the agreement, all employees will be moved into the town’s Public Safety Employees Pension Program, a demonstration of commitment to attracting and retaining top-notch employees. Other provisions improve access to leave, realign an out of date wage scale, and generally update the prior agreement.
“The IAFF is pleased to have reached a deal. 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.”