Pay Raise, Bonuses Proposed to Address Lifeguard Shortage
Starting wage would be $15 an hour. Returning guards could earn additional $900 in bonuses next year.
In response to the lifeguard shortage in Milwaukee County, the Board of Supervisors is advancing legislation to increase pay and offer bonuses to increase recruitment and retention.
In May, as the county Parks Department’s training sessions for lifeguards were wrapping up, the department reported to the county board that it was facing a severe lifeguard shortage.
It’s not just Milwaukee that’s having trouble finding lifeguards. There’s a national shortage. The cause, locally and across the country, isn’t easily attributable to a single factor.
The county has seen its lifeguard numbers steadily declining in recent years. But the COVID-19 pandemic was a major factor in the severe shortage in 2021.
County pools were closed and beaches went unguarded last year, cutting off the annual return of lifeguards for what is a seasonal job. The pandemic also cancelled training and recertification classes in 2020, disrupting the pipeline for new or returning lifeguards.
Increasing compensation, however, was discussed by supervisors as a possible remedy to the shortage locally.
A new resolution sponsored by Sup. Eddie Cullen authorizes the Parks Department to bump up hourly wages for lifeguards at every pay grade, beginning with a $15 an hour starting wage. It also authorizes a series of bonuses including a $100 referral bonus, a $200 monthly bonus paid out at the end of the season and a $200 return bonus.
The board’s Personnel Committee unanimously approved the resolution Friday. It will go before the full board later this month.
The increase in pay and bonuses will cost the department more than $124,000 in 2021 and more than $380,000 in 2022.
James Tarantino, director of business services for the parks department, said the resolution, if passed, would not have any impact on the pool closures or lack of lifeguards during the 2021 season, adding, “This all, hopefully will bear fruit in summer 2022.”
Tarantino said the retention bonus “certainly should help in bringing people back next year.”
Pools and beaches are “highly valued amenities” the resolution notes, and using them is “an important recreation activity for many families.”
There were three drownings at McKinley Beach in 2020. The beach doesn’t have posted lifeguards, even during a normal year, but they nonetheless underscore the need for lifeguards on Lake Michigan.
They were mentioned in the resolution, which stated, “Despite several high-profile drowning deaths in 2020, no lifeguards are available to staff Bradford or McKinley Beaches, largely due to the lack of individuals qualified for open water lifeguarding.”
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