Secondary Navigation

Transcript: Mayor Adams, Lifeguards Union, Pave Way for More Lifeguards, More Open Beaches and Pools

May 24, 2024

Lisa Zornberg, Chief Counsel to the Mayor and City Hall: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Lisa Zornberg, I'm chief counsel to the mayor. Our administration is laser focused on promoting public safety, growing our economy and creating a more livable city for everyday working class New Yorkers. 

Today, as we kick off Memorial Day weekend, we're excited to be here to make an announcement that touches upon all three of those priorities. This administration is focused on ensuring that all of our residents have access to our world class beaches and our easily accessible public pools. To tell you more about it, I'm very pleased to turn it over to Mayor Eric Adams.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you so much. Real excited. In a nutshell, the focus is, what the park commissioner, the commissioner of labor, chief counsel and the team was able to do was to sit down with the union and come up with real agreements on how do we get more lifeguards in place. 

That's become a hallmark of this administration. There's just too many outdated issues that are just in the way of getting things done. We saw that. The mere fact that the amount of time it took yards to swim a certain distance, a number of yards, just didn't make sense for these small kiddie pools. It doesn't mean a person is not a great swimmer and can't respond when need be. 

That's what Commissioner Donoghue and the labor commissioner,  Commissioner Campion, I like to call her champion, what she was able to accomplish to finally get this done. Outdated rules that got in the way of getting our swimmers back and enjoying our beaches. 

We should be really excited about this. We talked about this throughout the entire year. About lifeguards, lifeguards, lifeguards. No matter how you shaped it, no matter how you said it, it was clear that we had to do more to get lifeguards on our beaches. 
Our beaches are so important. We made them great. They are places that we consider as the French Riviera for those who cannot travel abroad. This is a place where families come to relax. These neighborhood pools play such a major role in allowing family members to come out and enjoy a hot day like today. 

We're saying as we kick off Memorial Weekend, the unofficial start of summer, that we were able to blow the whistle and give warning that our pools and our beaches will be open. As of tomorrow, Saturday, May 25th, our city beaches will be open for the season. Public pools will be open June 27. New York City has so much to see and appreciate and our beaches and our pools truly represent what's best about summer in New York. 

We want people to be safe. We want to make sure that we can have as many lifeguards as possible and to have updated rules that were in place for 40 years, 40 years. We were able to sit down and rectify and get them to the right place. These rules have restricted lifeguards hiring and preventing the city from doing everything we feel that is necessary to hire more lifeguards. We were able to make a major step forward. 

As of yesterday, we have a final arbitration award allowing us to make important changes to the lifeguard program. It will allow our city to expand lifeguard hiring and staffing for the 2024 summer season and beyond.

These are just common sense changes aligned with the state regulation and industry standards and allow us to hire more fully qualified lifeguards so we can keep our pools and our beaches open for all. We're not in any way bringing down how you must be qualified to save lives. If anything, we're strengthening them to make sure we have more pools that can have lifeguards there. 

We already have around 230 lifeguards. Katie's been trying to beat me up because I said 500. I was bad at math, Katie. About 230 lifeguards. We have over 500 enlists. This is going to allow us to expand. Keep the main thing the main thing. We got more lifeguards now coming to allow people to enjoy our beaches. 

I want to remind everyone, swimming and bathing are allowed only when lifeguards are on duty and they're on duty seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. through September 8th, seven days after my birthday. 

They are looking out for our safety. They're doing a job for us. This is really good news. We heard it over and over again. People wanted to get back at the pools and back at the beaches. Job well done to the entire team. Do I turn it over to our commissioner?

Zornberg: I’ll say a couple of words. Before turning it over to Commissioner Sue Donoghue of the Parks Department. I just want to give a shout out to all of the employees of the New York City Parks Department who work so tirelessly. I see some who are here today to celebrate this announcement. 

They keep our parks clean, safe and accessible to the public. This is really a credit to their work. With that, I'm very pleased to introduce New York City Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue.

Commissioner Sue Donoghue, Department of Parks and Recreation: Thank you, Lisa. Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Welcome. We are so happy to be here this afternoon. I want to echo Lisa's statements of the hardworking Parks Department officials who are here and out there in our parks every day and who contributed to getting us to this day. 

Since the pandemic, it's been an enormous challenge throughout the country, we know, to hire lifeguards and New York City has been no exception. At parks we have been working hard to rebuild our lifeguard ranks and have implemented new policies to bring on as many lifeguards as we possibly can. 

When lifeguard recruitment for the 2024 summer season began last December, we dramatically expanded the number of qualifying test locations and exam sessions, making it easier for applicants to access qualifying tests. We also improved the vision exam process and enhanced our recruitment ads to feature prominently our own brave New York City lifeguards. 

In February, importantly, the city reached an agreement to also raise hourly wages to twenty two dollars an hour for seasonal lifeguards. In addition to that, returning lifeguards are also eligible for a one thousand dollar bonus, making us competitive, making it an even better job for New York City residents. 

Along with these important achievements, it has also been abundantly clear that substantial changes were needed to grow our lifeguard ranks. That's what this press conference is about. That's what the mayor tasked us with doing. We took that seriously.
This new agreement comes in time to make an impact this year. We will now be able to adjust qualifications for all of our shallow pools to eliminate time requirements. We're also updating our vision standards for mini and waiting pools. It also allows us to make the important structural changes needed and recommended by DOI to ensure that this program is run fairly and in the best interest of all New Yorkers. 

Becoming a seasonal lifeguard is more than just a job. It's an opportunity to be part of a brave team of dedicated public servants. This agreement will ensure that we're able to increase our lifeguard ranks to better serve New Yorkers and keep them safe at our beaches and pools. Thank you all for being here. We look forward to another fun, safe summer in New York City.

Question: Hi, Mayor Adams. 

Mayor Adams: What's happening? 

Question: A couple questions, actually. Why isn't anyone from DC-37, the union that represents the lifeguards here? 

Secondly, as part of this contract, I know the concern from the hurry of returning lifeguards and the Parks Department is the control that the union has of the lifeguard school, the lifeguard training process. People say they make it particularly hard, so it provides jobs for them in six weeks to be a lifeguard at Riis Park, it's not that long and it's not that complicated. Will this contract expand that and will it give more control of the municipal lifeguard school back to the Parks Department?

Mayor Adams: Why you say they're not here, we were bursting with energy to get the message out, and it was not time to get everyone here. We wanted everyone to know as soon as possible, we know that you are looking at Rockaway Beach where your lovely mother is, so that we wanted you to know we were opening up. Okay, Sue?

Commissioner Donoghue: Thank you, Mr. Mayor, and thank you, Katie. We have worked hand in hand with the lifeguard union on this, Katie, and they've been at the table with us every step of the way. In terms of the changes that we've made, yes, one of the important changes now is that we will be inserting an intermediary management structure into the lifeguard division ranks. 

It was, heretofore, that the head of the lifeguard union, the lifeguard coordinator reported directly to our first deputy commissioner, Iris Rodriguez-Rosa, and while she can do many things and do them really well, she's got a huge portfolio. This will allow us to have now a management structure below her that will help to manage, modernize, implement, have accountability.

Question: With the elimination of the 30-yard swim, how many lifeguards are currently in training that can move into the shallow water pools?

Commissioner Donoghue: Let me just be clear, we're not eliminating. It's a 300-yard swim that is a requirement. This requirement is impacting just our shallow water pool, so five feet and under. That will still be in place. Our lifeguards still will need to pass that. 

We're just doing away with the timed requirement for our shallow water pools. That will still happen. They still need to go through rigorous training, be able to swim those 300 yards, but it just won't be timed. It will have a definite impact on our shallow water pools.

Question: How many are currently in training?

Commissioner Donoghue: Right now we've got, we had about 560 new recruits. We've got over 300 recruits in training right now.

Question: How long is training starting? I know you've got beaches open tomorrow, but anything you can say about how this contract deal affects the staffing on beaches tomorrow and through the weekend?

Commissioner Donoghue: We are ready to open all eight of our beaches tomorrow. You're right, we have lifeguards that are still in training, and that's a training process and a recertification process. 
Remember, we have new recruits that are in training. We also have returning lifeguards who will be coming back to help us man our pools and our beaches. That process goes on until, really up until the peak of our season, which is July 4th. In terms of training and recertification, that process is ongoing. We're adding to our ranks every day.

Questions: How long does it take that whole process from soup to nuts?

Commissioner Donoghue: They're different. For our new recruits it's an intensive 16-week process that they go through. For recertification, that is lifeguards who have already passed that process, they've recertified in prior years. That's ongoing. They come in, they have to redo their CPR. That's a process that's ongoing now through July 4th.

Question: I have one more. Would the Parks Department ever consider standardizing to the American Red Cross standard? The Parks Department is the only municipality that doesn't use it. The Long Island beaches, Long Beach, Jones Beach, Riis Park, again, here in the city. Again, it goes back to that control of power that's in the lifeguards pool. Would you ever consider standardizing so it's a shorter, more succinct American Red Cross standard? 

Commissioner Donoghue: Thanks, Katie. We're very much aware of that. We are always looking at ways we can make improvements, work with the union, look to update. That's what today's announcement is about. 

This has been 40 years in the making. This change in our contract is the first one that's happened in 40 years. We're going to be looking at continuing to evolve and change. This is a mayor that is very focused on public service, public safety, enhancements, we'll be looking to continue that, absolutely, those conversations. 

Question: Can you blow the whistle again? 

Mayor Adams: [Blows whistle.] Get back to the shallow end, Katie.


Media Contact
(212) 788-2958