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Morning Spew

Get Ready for a Hot No Lifeguard Summer

And other links to start your bummer summer.

8:28 AM EDT on May 30, 2023

A sandy stretch of Rockaway Beach on a sunny day.

A tide pool in the Rockaways. (Hell Gate)

New York's beaches kicked off the summer season over the weekend, with plenty of wind, sun, nutcrackers, and an extremely limited number of lifeguards. As the Parks Department revealed earlier this month, the City currently has fewer than 500 lifeguards, which is roughly a third of the number needed to fully open the City's beaches and pools. 

The lifeguard shortage isn't new—the City struggled last year to hire enough lifeguards before the summer season, waiting months to take action and raise pay to entice the part-time employees to get back in the high chair. Knowing full well that this would be an issue, City Hall worked to make the lifeguard test easier and less opaque, and redoubled outreach efforts to high schools to get people into training programs. But the new push only yielded 200 new lifeguards, and just 280 returning lifeguards. 

What sank the outreach effort? Well, according to a New York Times investigation, all signs point once again to the lifeguard union, which is affiliated with DC 37. According to the Times, lifeguard union officials slowed down the recruitment effort by canceling meetings, and they "insisted on communicating mainly by fax."

The lifeguard union runs the lifeguard school, which means it controls the flow of who's allowed to become qualified and re-qualified. And even with lower test standards, and an effort to make the test more transparent (for example, by letting applicants know how much they failed their test by), some applicants and those applying for recertification reported being essentially run off the lifeguard school by union lifeguards. 

Here's a tidbit from the Times: 

Howard Carswell, a former rescue diver with the city's Police Department, said his 16-year-old son, a competitive swimmer, withdrew from lifeguard training this year because the officials overseeing it were surly and "generally giving the kids trying to get the certificate a hard time."

The lifeguard supervisor's union, which is still run by the reclusive Peter Stein, the subject of an excellent 2020 New York magazine profile and a damning 2021 Department of Investigation report, pushed back on claims by Parks Department officials that the union was to blame, instead placing the onus squarely on the low pay. The City has expanded retention bonuses for lifeguards who come back. 

The Parks Department ended the application period for new lifeguards months ago, but is still trying to get former lifeguards back in the water. If only, the anonymous Parks Department officials who spoke to the Times say, the union would let them. The City's pools open in a month. 

Some links to start your true summer season: 

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