The city hopes to hire twice as many lifeguards this summer as last season, when a staff shortage limited swimming at public pools.
The parks department has made reforms to the lifeguard test, which a city watchdog said was “unfair” and lacking transparency. The department launched a new recruitment campaign encouraging applicants to “join the team” and work at some of the city’s “most iconic locations.”
First Deputy Parks Commissioner Iris Rodriguez-Rosa told Gothamist in an interview Friday that the department was “very confident” that all beaches and parks will be open this summer.
Last summer’s lifeguard shortage grew so dire – with fewer than 800 people hired for what is normally a 1,400-person seasonal workforce – the city offered a temporary 22% pay bump to $19.46 an hour to lure more candidates. Pools were unexpectedly closed, others had long lines to get in due to reduced capacity and free swim lessons were canceled.
The hourly wage will return this year to $16.10 an hour, Rodriguez-Rosa said, but she noted the pay “was subject to change.”
The parks department has said its ability to keep the city’s pools and beaches open depends on the number of lifeguards it can hire. Lifeguard coverage fluctuates daily based on headcounts.
Rodriguez-Rosa said 1,400 lifeguards was “the ideal amount.”
Reforms to the lifeguard test include a new 45-second cutoff, up from the previous requirement of 35 seconds. Applicants will now receive the timed results of their tests, in hopes those who miss the cutoff time will work on improving their speed, Rodriguez-Rosa said.
The lifeguard union has long been criticized by city oversight officials for mismanagement and dysfunction. The Department of Investigation said in a 2021 report that the Parks Department did not exercise proper oversight of the lifeguard division, which suffered from a lack of transparency about “personnel and disciplinary practices.” The report cited “unfair administration of the qualifying swim test as a way to disfavor some candidates.”
Calls for comment to the DC 37 Local 461 NYC Lifeguards and Local 508 Lifeguard Supervisors unions were not returned Friday.
Last summer, two people drowned at Rockaway beaches on a single day in areas where swimming was prohibited. A parks department official noted these deaths happened when lifeguards were not on duty.
The lifeguard shortage was a problem that affected a third of public pools around the country, NPR reported, citing disruptions from the pandemic that led to expired certifications and a lack of training programs.