City Locks in Lifeguard Pay Bump and Bonuses as Swim Task Force Explores Solutions

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City Locks in Lifeguard Pay Bump and Bonuses as Swim Task Force Explores Solutions

City Locks in Lifeguard Pay Bump and Bonuses as Swim Task Force Explores Solutions

Katie Honan, The City

Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY

A lifeguard keeps watch over senior swimmers during the reopening of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Aquatic Center.
A lifeguard keeps watch over swimmers during the reopening of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Aquatic Center, Feb. 27, 2023. | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Newer city lifeguards are getting a permanent raise — and all public pool and beach watchers could net an attendance bonus — as the Parks Department and a new multi-agency task force hope to avoid another critical shortage this summer.

Pay for first and second-year lifeguards will be buoyed from $16.10 to $19.46 an hour, Parks officials said, in addition to a potential 3% salary boost under the tentative contract agreement with District Council 37, their union.

The change makes permanent a one-time bump last summer that was meant to attract new hires.

And any returning seasonal lifeguard who works an average of at least four days a week between July 8 through Aug. 19 will receive a $1,000 bonus, officials said.

“As we continue to build our lifeguard corps, we’re committed to supporting these critical staff who put their own safety at risk to save lives and make summer happen for millions of New Yorkers,” Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Sue Donoghue told THE CITY in a statement.

A spokesperson for the union did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The ripple -effect of too few lifeguards last year led to the cancellation of  learn-to-swim programs and early morning lap swimming, and rolling closures of public pools and beaches.

And, as THE CITY reported last week, children’s day camps have been faced with significantly more expensive options after being shut out of public pools. Parks officials said that even though the camps often supply their own lifeguards, there were still capacity concerns.

Swim Team Exercises Muscle

The pay boost and bonuses are part of larger joint efforts by city government, nonprofits and private organizations to increase the number of water watchers in the city.

Last November, the YMCA of Greater New York and the Association for a Better New York quietly formed the “NYC Lifeguard Interorganizational Task Force” to find solutions to the shortage, its members told THE CITY.

The group includes representatives from nonprofits like the Swim Strong Foundation and Rising Tide Effect as well as the Mayor’s Office and the city’s Education, Health and Parks departments.

“A coordinated, collaborative, and urgent response is required if we want to address the lifeguard shortage crisis and create a stronger, sustainable lifeguarding ecosystem for the long term,” Sharon Greenberger, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater New York and co-chair of the task force, said in a statement.

The task force said the shortage of lifeguards, which also results in fewer opportunities for people to learn how to swim, is an “urgent public health crisis.”

So far, the panel — which has at least 14 member organizations, including the American Red Cross and Children’s Aid — has come up with several ideas for increasing the ranks, according to documentation shared with THE CITY.

Solutions include expanding the number of pools where potential lifeguards can take the test and sharing more outreach and educational materials about lifeguard jobs at multiple sites, from city beaches and pools to private swim facilities and nonprofit community centers.

There’s a Place You Can Go

At the YMCA, which operates its own set of pools separate from the Parks Department, they’ve worked to add lifeguard training across the five boroughs, with 15 pools now offering instruction, according to Elizabeth Bergin, the senior vice president for research, evaluation, and strategy at the 171-year-old nonprofit.

The YMCA’s Lifeguard Training & Certification Program is now offering free classes year-round to train, and certify lifeguards in New York City. People who pass can either work at YMCA pools or be referred to other lifeguard positions.

The 40-hour classes are free for anyone 16 and up, and even if someone doesn’t pass the initial class they may be offered other job opportunities, Bergin said. A grant from the Revson Foundation helped facilitate the task force and  allowed the courses to be free, officials said. The foundation is also a financial supporter of THE CITY.

“Drowning prevention is one of the principles guiding this,” Bergin told THE CITY. “Any drowning that we can prevent is very important.”

Their recruitment efforts have worked so far, she said. In the summer of 2021, before their broader city training and certification program started that fall, the YMCA certified 17 lifeguards and hired 11, according to their data.

In 2022, they had certified 114 lifeguards and hired 49 over the full year. This year, they’re projected to certify 200 lifeguards and hire 95.

“We have had intergenerational classes, the oldest person certified since we started is 68,” Bergin said.

“We encourage anybody that wants to learn, has the ability, and wants to be a lifeguard to come in and train with us.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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