OCEAN CITY- After months of strenuous back and forth negotiations, the town of Ocean City and the IAFF Firefighter’s union came to a collective bargaining agreement for the next three years.
More than a dozen firefighters representing the union and a similar number of town officials, including the Mayor and City Council took turns signing the second CBA between the town and the firefighter’s union, as the majority of the changes in this agreement all seem to be driven by simple economics and as a result, most likely swing the pendulum in favor of the city.
At Tuesday’s work session at City Hall, attorney Steve Silvestri of Miles and Stockbridge outlined a number of the changes to the CBA for the next three years, including a clause that now allows the Mayor and Council to halt any COLA or step increases if economic conditions deem it necessary.
As a result, it essentially makes the agreement between the town and the firefighters union resemble that of the town’s agreements with its general employees more so than it does with the Fraternal Order of Police, for example, since firefighters are often considered in the public safety category of town employees.
Last year, the town went to the FOP and asked them to forgo a clause in their contract that required the town to pay COLA and step increases in their salaries. The FOP agreed to that, but it was pointed out this week that firefighters had not had a similar clause written into the last CBA, and they still don’t have one like the FOP has in this one.
“This agreement is where it had to be, and where it needs to be for the next three years,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic. “We were in much stronger economic standing when we did the last CBA, so we could obviously give them more then, but it’s tough times for everyone and things have changed, so it had to end up like this.”
Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore said that in any negotiation situation, both parties come to the table with a list of demands, and some were left on the table on both sides.
“I’m probably about 80 percent pleased with how this turned out, and I would guess that the other side is probably 80 percent pleased as well,” said Larmore. “This is the one time that firefighters are fighting for their own livelihoods and not putting the citizens and the general public first, so it’s an odd situation for everyone. I am in a tough position because obviously I work for the city, but I represent and manage all the firefighters as well, so I sympathize and understand both sides of the conversation.”
Larmore said that the biggest change in the day-to-day operations for firefighters starting July 1, when the new CBA kicks in, will be the fact that the city will now hold the power to assign the firefighters, whereas in the past, it was the firefighter’s choice of “location, assignment, and apparatus.”
In addition, the firefighters were able to stand firm in holding their current scheduling system, which enables many of the firefighters to hold secondary employment throughout the area, despite the town wanting to condense the time period between shifts to increase operational efficiency.
Basically, the way that it operates now under the 24/72 guidelines, is that “an employee works for 24 hours, then has off for the next three days”, explained Larmore, “the town had expressed a desire to move that to a 24/48 schedule, which would have allowed much more efficiency in the way we can staff the department, but the town wanted to work with the union and everyone agreed to come back to the table in two years and talk about the 24/48 again for the next agreement.”
The Council voted 5-2 (with council members Margaret Pillas and Jim Hall in opposition) to approve the CBA.
“The entire world around us has changed from the last agreement between the two parties, said Mayor Rick Meehan, “so we have to make the necessary changes to the way that we have to do business.”