Council is pushing plans to hire more lifeguards

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Friday March 25, 2022 by Jo Clifton

The city of Austin, which operates 45 water sports facilities, is desperate for lifeguards. Parks and Recreation Department spokeswoman Kanya Lyons said Austin monitor Thursday that her department has yet to hire 614 more lifeguards. Ideally, the city would like to have 750 lifeguard positions filled by early summer.

The situation is particularly dire at Barton Springs Pool, which recently announced it would be closing two days a week due to a lack of lifeguards.

Under a resolution authored primarily by council member Paige Ellis, the council has directed City Manager Spencer Cronk to find solutions to the lifeguard shortage and to present his ideas to the council by April 7, the date of the next council meeting. Besides the fact that people don’t respond well to pool closures, council members Chito Vela and Alison Alter revealed another reason for their strong interest in the topic: Both previously served as lifeguards and Vela worked at Barton Springs Pool. Ellis has spoken fondly of her time as a lifeguard in Austin.

Strategies proposed in the resolution include hiring lifeguards as full-time employees with benefits. According to Krissy O’Brien of the city union AFSCME, this idea could be very fruitful in persuading workers to sign up as lifeguards and continue working for the city.

The resolution also urges the city manager to consider introducing a longevity pay for temporary workers returning to the pools for consecutive seasons. Staff also need to take care of providing additional summer graduation bonuses. the City website is currently offering “a $500 summer graduation bonus for all temporary lifeguards who 1) are fully trained and work June 1 through August 15; and 2) working three shifts a week.”

O’Brien, who is a member of the city’s Living Wage Task Force, told councilors they should consider raising the city’s minimum wage to $22 an hour. Two lifeguards speaking Thursday also urged the council to raise the minimum to $22, a move supported by the Parks and Recreation Board’s finance committee. O’Brien said she expects the council to hold a working session in the near future on recommendations from the Living Wage Group, including next year’s $22-an-hour minimum wage.

AFSCME announced on Thursday that it would launch a campaign to raise the city’s livelihood with a launch event on Saturday in honor of union leader Cesar Chavez. The event starts at 10:30 am at Parque Zaragoza.

Barton Springs Pool lifeguard Scott Cobb told the council he just received an email from the city saying it only needs “five to nine lifeguards from Barton Springs with open availability of the 26 (required)” give. He said the best solution to the problem was to increase the hourly rate to $22 and also pay the lifeguards for the time it takes them to commute to the pools. Cobb noted that while lifeguards get free bus tickets, it does him little good because it takes two hours by bus from his home. He said lifeguards get a free lunch during spring break, which he says helps in both money and time terms.

Angela Richter of the Austin Parks Foundation told the council her group is ready to help the city. Bobby Garza, a member of the foundation’s board of directors, said of the monitor The organization would be willing to donate $10,000 to the city for lifeguard grants.

Photo provided by a Creative Commons license.

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