Last night, a majority of the members of Local 4269 voted to ratify a collective bargaining agreement with the Town of Ocean City. The agreement provides that the Town may transition fire/EMS personnel to a 10s and 14s shift alignment – two 10-hour day shifts, followed by two 14-hour night shifts, followed by four days off – as soon as October 1, 2017. The members of Local 4269 do not believe that this is a good course for Fire Department operations. However, the members of Local 4269 recognize that the dispute over this issue, which has persisted for more than a year, must be resolved. The membership of Local 4269 has ratified the agreement, begrudgingly, on terms that do not do justice to the change insisted upon by the Town, and after of a course of negotiating by the Town that did not reflect fair compromise. But it is time to move on.
The essential terms of the agreement are as follows. The agreement is for three years – till June 30, 2019. It provides for employees to be advanced one-step and awarded a 1.5% cost of living adjustment on July 1, 2017 and on July 1, 2018. In addition, the Town will pay a one-time transition bonus totaling $50,000. The agreement includes creation of a Deferred Retirement Option Program. Other changes address time periods to adjust grievances, and imposition of flu vaccinations.
The transition to 10s and 14s moves the Department in the wrong direction. The present shift alignment of one 24-hour shift followed by three days off is the shift alignment used by the majority of professional fire departments in Maryland and beyond. It provides for operational continuity. It allows for personnel to recover after a shift. It is a shift alignment that has served Ocean City well. Nonetheless, from the outset of negotiations, the Town insisted on a change. At first, the Town insisted that a change was necessary to improve response times. Later the Town simply insisted on the change.
The members of Local 4269 ratified this agreement because we recognize that perpetual conflict is not good for the Fire Department and it is not good for our community. It is bad for morale and for the relationship between employees and the Town. The move to 10s and 14s will likely have adverse consequences that will outweigh any benefit. Operational continuity will be disrupted, the ability to recruit full- and part-time personnel will be impaired, and overtime costs will increase.
No matter what, the members of Local 4269 shall continue with their core goal: to serve residents of, and visitors to, Ocean City with the best possible emergency services. And the members of Local 4269 shall continue to advocate for the best operational practices for the Fire Department. So too will Local 4269 advocate for a better system of labor relations – including binding interest arbitration – to improve the relationship between employees and the Town and to improve the process and outcomes of negotiations in the future.