11/15/2012

Ocean City, Md., workers continue fight for bargaining

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Before, during and after Superstorm Sandy, Ocean City, Md., employees worked to keep residents safe and protect their seaside town. Praise for them came from all quarters: the mayor, city council and residents.

But it wasn't enough for them to win a referendum guaranteeing them the right to collective bargaining.

Despite a weeks-long information campaign that turned out more than 900 "yes" votes on Election Day, a larger-than-expected turnout on Nov. 6 defeated the collective bargaining referendum for Ocean City general employees, 1,723 to 931.

General employees of Ocean City began considering collective bargaining when they learned some city council members were discussing possible changes to benefits and pay, including converting pensions to a defined-contribution plan and lowering salaries for department managers. The recent election swept away some of the council members considering these policy changes, but employees understand there is no guarantee that future council members will be sympathetic. Collective bargaining institutionalizes the right to bargain for fair wages, benefits and working conditions regardless of who sits on the city council.

Employees feel that collective bargaining is a natural progression for them: Their city's police and firefighters already have it. But while firefighters won collective bargaining through a direct city council vote, police had to go to a public referendum four times before they won the right.

General employees are determined to show the same persistence. And they have a healthy start—900 votes is "nothing to sneeze at," as one organizer put it. And dozens of employees engaged in door-knocking, phone-calling, leafleting and ad campaigns for the cause. That sort of commitment should provide a solid foundation to continue the fight. [Virginia Myers]

November 15, 2012