Rockaway Beach Councilwoman Joann Ariola is expressing cautious optimism after Mayor Eric Adams announced Wednesday that the city has reached a temporary deal with the lifeguard union represented by District Council 37 to raise starting wages for lifeguards from $16 to $19.46 per hour this summer.
Ariola has been voicing her concerns since the swimming season began on Memorial Day weekend, that the city was courting disaster due to chronic staff shortages along the beaches in her district.
“This pay raise is a great step forward, and will allow the Parks Department to better retain good, qualified lifeguards for future seasons if it’s made permanent,” Ariola said. “With this raise, we’ll see a real sense of pay equity with other agencies and neighboring municipalities such as Atlantic Beach, Long Beach and the federal parks — all of which regularly poach the best and most capable guards from our beaches and pools.”
While the mayor’s announcement was centered around the immediate needs of the city’s pools, and its 17 mini pools, he added that the city will pay a $1,000 retention bonus in September to lifeguards who work every week through the end of the summer season.
“Many of the city’s lifeguards are young people — often college students — who rely on the money they make during the summer to help get them through the school year,” Ariola said. “When there are other summer options available that pay significantly more than the Parks Department was offering, it only makes sense that people would look elsewhere. Hopefully, this new pay hike will help to stem the hemorrhaging of experienced guards we see year after year and help to attract new people to the profession as well.”
Adams also announced he would allow some city workers to help fill the void on closed sections of city beaches. Large stretches of Rockaway Beach opened just in time for the July 4 weekend, but swimming was limited to beaches that had adequate lifeguard coverage.
“We are collaborating across city agencies on a public safety presence to keep swimmers off closed sections of beach, and working with New York City Emergency Management, the New York City Fire Department and the New York City Police Department to deploy complementary measures to keep New Yorkers safe,” Adams said. “While these changes are a step in the right direction, our ability to safely open beaches and pools has been impacted by a national lifeguard shortage and has been held back by efficient practices that are in dire need of further reform.”
Ariola wants to see the city address another problem faced by lifeguards in the Rockaways caused by the lack of proper equipment like ATVs and watercraft that would give the shorthanded lifeguards the ability to react quickly and travel to beaches where they might be needed.
“The Parks Department didn’t file any request for new equipment in this year’s budget,” Ariola said. “Despite this, my office is going to continue looking into ways we can make the jobs of our city’s lifeguards easier, and we will continue to look into the possibility of securing new gear and really bringing our lifeguards into the 21st century.”