Failed swimmers get second chance in city’s bid to fill lifeguard shortage

City Hall is scrambling to hire more lifeguards ahead of the July 4 deadline as New York City faces its worst shortage in recent history — given emergency measures, including the call for barely failed applicants, the offer of crash courses and even end-of-season bonuses.

The Department of Parks and Recreation says it currently only has 720 people to guard beaches and pools from Thursday, but is aiming for nearly 1,000 more.

About 61 applicants who have taken the lifeguard qualification test more than twice this year and failed received automated text messages from the Parks Department this week gauging their interest in taking a new class to become rangers, according to an official and a copy of the text consulted. by THE CITY.

“Hello! Are you interested in an accelerated lifeguard training course to work with NYC Parks this summer? Answer YES or NO here. Thank you!” The message to someone who had previously failed the test read.

Lifeguards overlooked the opening day of the Hamilton Fish Pool on the Lower East Side, June 28, 2022.

As of Tuesday, no one had signed up for the classes, according to agency spokeswoman Crystal Howard. As seasonal employees, lifeguards must be fully qualified and hired by July 4, according to city rules.

Meanwhile, Mayor Eric Adams’ administration is in talks with District Council 37 officials about recruiting and retaining lifeguards, according to union executive director Henry Garrido. The largest union in the city representing municipal workers, DC37 includes the two local chapters that represent lifeguards and their supervisors.

The union’s biggest concern is the $16 an hour starting wage, but they’re also working on scheduling issues, training issues and the redeployment of lifeguards around smaller pools and beaches, he said. -he declares.

And they’re pushing the city to get a retention grant that would pay a bonus at the end of the summer to lifeguards who stayed all season, Garrido said.

He noted that the shortage of lifeguards worsened after Governor Kathy Hochul raised lifeguard salaries for state-run beaches and pools because it did not affect city guards.

“We’re challenged because the state has increased lifeguard salaries by 34% across the board,” he said. “A lot of our people are poached or voluntarily leaving…it’s been one of the toughest summers.”

City Hall spokeswoman Kate Smart said they were working on more than just pay raises to hire more lifeguards.

“We are in active negotiations with the lifeguards union to overcome outdated agreements that prevent us from having lifeguards on chairs at whatever rate of pay we offer,” she said in a statement.

Pool resources

The number of lifeguards in the city has declined every year since 2016, according to Parks Department data. Last year there were 1,013 lifeguards for the summer, down from 1,530 in 2016. Some veteran guardsmen told THE CITY earlier this month that the Adams administration also enforced a rule for the first time. decades-old that prohibits city employees like a firefighter from working part-time at the beach.

Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue said at the official opening of city pools on Tuesday that the Parks Department expects pool closures and crowd limits due to the shortage of sentries – in addition to the summer-long cancellation of various beloved swimming programs and lessons.

She and other Parks Department officials have encouraged anyone who has ever worked as a lifeguard to re-enroll. It’s too late in the year for new rangers to be certified in time, as it requires a week-long training program for first-year rangers, according to Donoghue.

Parks Commissioner Susan Donoghue celebrates the opening of swimming season at the Hamilton Fish Pool on the Lower East Side, June 28, 2022.

“We really focus on all the returning lifeguards – people who have been lifeguards in the past, we encourage them to come back and recertify,” she told THE CITY after diving in the Hamilton Fish pool. of the Lower East Side. earlier this week.

“We are working to get as many lifeguards as possible certified to be in the water with us.”

The problems with Parks Department lifeguards didn’t start this summer. A 20-page Investigations Department report, triggered by a 2020 New York magazine investigation into its union leaders, detailed these issues and made 13 recommendations to improve what it called “shortcomings in management and operation of the Lifeguard Division”. These problems had not yet been solved at the start of the beach season.

Garrido declined to comment on issues within the union.

“I’m here to find solutions, to try to solve the problems that exist, not this other nonsense,” he said.

Cold water

The shortage affected swimmers across the city, including those at the Asser Levy Recreation Center on Manhattan’s East Side.

Jaqcuelin Carnegie, who said she had been coming to Asser Levy Pool for more than 20 years, lamented the loss of the lap swim, which was cut due to a lack of lifeguards.

“Before, if the kids started coming in early, you could stay or you could go,” she said of canceled swim programs, which allowed older swimmers to rest. “But at least you had a choice.”

Children and adults marked the opening of the swimming season at the Hamilton Fish Pool on the Lower East Side on June 28, 2022.

Other people across the city were disappointed to find that their local pools were closed despite the lack of information on the Department of Parks website.

“Parham Playground pool is CLOSED because the city has not provided a lifeguard,” one woman tweeted about a swimming hole at a playground in Fort Greene. “So many disappointed families today. Please team up and open this pool.

In Asser Levy, Kieran Stevens, 50, a stay-at-home mom from Gramercy, was visiting the pool with her 3-year-old daughter Ella on Wednesday and said she was worried there was only one lifeguard on duty, it said. she says.

“I hope they add more [lifeguards], just for capacity reasons,” she said. “I don’t know how many people they can let in.”

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