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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

DC 37 wins pay hike for Local 461 Lifeguards amid worker shortage

PEP Photo by Mike Lee

DC 37 struck a one-time deal with Mayor Eric Adams in July that raises the hourly starting pay for City Lifeguards to $19.46 for the 2022 season. The agreement also provides a $1,000 retention bonus to Local 461 Lifeguards and Lieutenants in Local 508 who work every week through Sept. 11, the end of the season.

“The most important result of this agreement is that visitors to the City’s pools and beaches this summer will be safe and protected by professional lifeguards who are properly trained to handle any water emergency,” said Henry Garrido, DC 37 Executive Director.

Garrido led the union’s negotiating team along with Lifeguard Supervisors Local 508 President Peter Stein, City Lifeguards Local 461 President Alma Diamond, and the union’s Research and Negotiations Department. They convinced the city that the best way to attract and retain lifeguards is to offer more competitive wages.

The one-year economic pact boosts the salaries of first- and second-year Local 461 City Lifeguards to the third-year hiring rate, a 21% salary increase for 2022 only. City Lifeguards who leave before Sept. 11 to return to school will have to provide a letter from their school in order to receive the $1,000 retention bonus.

“The administration needed to address the historically low wages it pays City Lifeguards, who at $16 an hour were the lowest paid first responders,” Stein said. “We met previously with Parks management and the administration, but without Henry Garrido’s intervention, we would not have this deal.”

Union leaders pressed the mayor to respond to a nationwide lifeguard shortage that has forced other municipalities to close pools and beaches this summer. In May, the Department of Parks and Recreation, with just 500 City Lifeguards on staff, suspended swim classes for the season. Since reaching the agreement with DC 37, Parks reopened the mini pools and beaches it had temporarily closed.

“All public pools and beaches in New York City are now open and operational with 844 City Lifeguards who are adequately trained to save lives,” Stein said. “We fought hard to do the right thing by the public and our members. We did not get everything we wanted, but we are moving in the right direction.”

“This increase in starting pay and the $1,000 retention bonus are wins for our members,” Diamond said. “Other communities have solved their seasonal lifeguard deficit by providing increases across the board to incentivize retention. We will continue working on behalf of our members to secure fair and attractive compensation to retain our lifeguards year after year.”

The Parks Department recruits applicants who are proficient swimmers. Local 508 Supervisors lead rigorous CPR and water rescue training, and administer a timed swim test applicants must pass to become a certified City Lifeguard. This year, the city created a new tier of certification for mini-pool Lifeguards that suspends the timed swim test requirement. Lifeguards are re-certified annually.

City Lifeguards, who can start as young as 16 years old, are responsible for the safety and lives of millions who visit the 14 miles of beaches and 53 outdoor pools and mini-pools in the five boroughs.

Parks assigns the strongest swimmers to public beaches. Lifeguards engage in daily rescue drills.

Stein said, “Local 461 Lifeguards hold an outstanding nine-year safety record with no fatalities or drownings at public beaches or pools while on duty.”

The Parks Department’s official summer season ran from Memorial Day weekend through Sunday, Sept. 11.