Ocean City firefighters and emergency medical personnel have begun a petition for a place on the ballot in November’s local elections.
The International Association of Firefighters’ Local 4269 is fighting for an amendment in the town charter allowing for binding interest arbitration, which would allow a third party to find a compromise during labor disputes.
The union’s action comes after an ongoing labor dispute between the town and the union regarding firefighter shifts that began in March. The town plans to remove firefighters and emergency personnel from a 24-hour on, 72 hours off shift, standard for most departments, to recurring 12-hour shifts.
“It has to go to a vote by the citizens,” said Ryan Whittington, deputy fire marshal and union president. “And in order to get it on the ballot, we have to have enough signatures, or hold a special election.”
In order to guarantee a place on the ballot, the union must receive signatures totaling an amount that is 20 percent of the eligible voting population of Ocean City, according to a press release from Local 4269.
Binding interest arbitration is already standard across much of Maryland, including Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and Howard County. The concept is simple — rather the Town of Ocean City making decisions on behalf of Local 4269, such as the current labor dispute, binding interest arbitration calls for a neutral third party.
The third party would take in both sides of the story and then reach a compromise that both parties agree to accept beforehand. Local 4269 said having this process could prevent issues from happening in the future.
“If the proposed amendment is placed on the ballot and passes, it will not recur,” according to the press release. “If the amendment passes, in the future we will have prompt resolution to issues unresolved through negotiations.”
Local 4269 plans to continue to fight against the proposed shift changes during the petition period.
“The town has decided to unilaterally implement its proposals to upend the Fire Department by operating the department like no other comparable department,” the press release stated. “We continue to challenge the town’s course. Local 4269 is preparing to proceed to hearing on its unfair labor practice charge against the town.”
In the lead-up to November’s polls Local 4269 will be petitioning for support from Ocean City citizens.