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Ocean City

City awaits unions’ word on labor agreements

(March 1, 2013) After months of bargaining and negotiation, the town of Ocean City has reportedly reached preliminary contract agreements with the resort’s public safety unions.

While what exactly those contracts do and do not guarantee has yet to be revealed, there seems to be some trepidation in City Hall as to how the city will be paying for its police and fire/EMS services.

“Now that we have tentative agreements with both the IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) and the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) – assuming those contracts are ratified – those costs will need to be factored in FY14,” City Manager David Recor told the City Council during a preliminary budget review this week.

Recor later said his staff has compiled fiscal impact estimates for the new labor agreements, but that the city would not be releasing details until after the agreements were finalized due to a confidentiality clause with both negotiation teams.

“The first thing that has to happen is that all the issues that came up have to be placed into the document, and then that has to go to the respective sides to make sure that the changes made are as what was [agreed to] in the negotiation process,” said FOP Treasurer and negotiations chairman Sgt. Art Grady this week.

“We’re still going through the process of reviewing the document, not only at the bargaining unit level, but at the legal level as well.”

If no hitches arise in reviewing the legal language used, Grady said the FOP’s membership is likely to vote on and ratify the contract within the next seven days.

What has almost certainly been the crux of the contract issues this year, however, is the desire expressed by the FOP to move back to a defined-benefit pension system. In early 2011, the then-majority of council closed the city’s public safety pension trust fund to new hires and implemented a 401(a), individual contribution retirement plan.

Since then, the OCPD has hired 22 officers under the new plan. But the FOP has maintained that the lack of a proper pension makes officers less committed to staying with the department long-term, presenting a poor return on training investment for the agency. The then-minority of the City Council, as well as Mayor Rick Meehan, agreed with the FOP and were staunchly opposed to the change.

The FOP instead suggested that, instead of trying to phase out defined benefits, the city should retain but scale back its pension structure into multiple tiers for newer and older hires. In the election this past November, the union backed Meehan and a slate of council candidates who were more receptive to such an idea than the majority that had eliminated the guaranteed pension system. The successful electoral campaign subsequently caused a major reversal in City Hall.

“They had given us their word that they were at least going to go back and revisit this with open eyes, and potentially get rid of the new [defined contribution] system,” Grady said recently.

Although he could not reveal the details of the proposed contract, Grady said this week that he was satisfied with how the negotiations went over.

“In any negotiation process, there’s a lot of give and take. You start at a certain level, and you work your way through,” he said. “If you walk away and think that you got a fair agreement – not everything you wanted, but you didn’t lose anything unfairly – then that’s a pretty good process.”

 

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