A decades-old rule that prohibits some city employees from working part-time as lifeguards will be lifted, according to people familiar with the matter, as New York City is facing its worst lifeguard shortage in recent memory — and just days before the July 4 holiday.
It follows THE CITY’s reporting that dual-employment waivers, which previously allowed city first responders to also work lifeguard shifts, were denied this year for the first time.
The dual-employment waiver will ideally add more guards, according to people familiar with the negotiations with District Council 37, the city’s largest municipal union that represents lifeguards and lifeguard supervisors. Union leaders are also pushing for a raise in the starting hourly salary, which is currently $16, to $19 an hour.
There are currently just 731 certified lifeguards ready to watch the city’s 53 outdoor pools and 15 miles of beaches — about half as many as the Department of Parks and Recreation aims for, according to officials.
As part of its recruitment, the city is also looking to start a three-day training program to certify lifeguards to work at mini-pools. These pools don’t require the same swimming skills as open ocean lifeguards, officials said, and will free up others to work larger pools and the ocean.
A spokesperson for City Hall, Kate Smart, said the city was “hard at work” to make sure the city’s pools and beaches can stay open all summer.
“We are bargaining with the union, including over higher wages,” she said in a statement.
“While this represents progress and will help in the midst of the national lifeguard shortage we are facing, more work remains to update outdated practices that have hindered the city’s ability to recruit lifeguards and safely open beaches and pools.”
City Councilwoman Joann Ariola (R-Queens) praised the “creative” changes to get more working lifeguards. She represents some of the most popular stretches of Rockaway Beach, including the area from Beach 92nd to 106th streets that officially reopened Friday after it had been closed due to a federal Army Corps of Engineer erosion project.
“The shortage of lifeguards on our city’s beaches and pools is a public safety hazard,” she told THE CITY. “I am pleased the mayor is implementing some of these solutions, such as utilizing first responders as lifeguards.”
Ariola, though, blasted Peter Stein, the head of the lifeguard supervisors’ union, who was the subject of a 2020 New York magazine investigation that later prompted a Department of Investigation probe.
“Our biggest obstacle to fixing this problem is Peter Stein’s massive ego and selfish need for control,” Ariola said.
Stein did not respond to a text message seeking comment.
Prospective pool goers had already felt the pain of the lifeguard shortage this week, with scattered closings across the city.
Commissioner Sue Donoghue said at the official pool opening on Tuesday that the shortage would cause scattered closings of small pools, and occupancy limits at larger pools.
But swimmers across the city were surprised and disappointed this week to find many pools listed as open on the Parks Department’s website were actually closed.
The city is currently working on an updated website that will better reflect pool closings as quickly as they know which ones can’t open, according to Smart.