Lifeguard unions object to outsourcing

Newport Beach lifeguards are pushing back against the possible outsourcing of their services at Corona del Mar State Beach, saying such a move could hurt recruitment without producing much savings.

The city last month asked for applications from organizations wanting to take on the job of patrolling the 1.2-mile stretch of coastline in place of the in-house lifeguards.

Contracting lifeguard services could cut annual costs and reduce full-time staff as employees retire. No layoffs are planned, according to the city.

The two unions representing Newport's guards — the Lifeguard Management Assn., which represents the full-time force, and the Assn. of Newport Beach Ocean Lifeguards, which represents the 150 to 200 seasonal guards — have both objected to the idea.

Newport officials say they won't have a clear picture of how much could be saved by outsourcing until they receive contract proposals, which are due Tuesday.

But Lifeguard Management Assn. President Capt. Boyd Mickley contends that the city stands to save only about $30,000 annually, even if operations are cut to the bone.

"It is going to be a different level of service," he said.

Newport Beach City Manage Dave Kiff said no particular dollar figure needs to be met to consider outsourcing.

"It's not just about cost savings," he said. "Sometimes it's about just lightening the overall personnel load."

Right now, Newport employs about 13 full-time lifeguards, who are typically managers and supervisors.

Salaries for those positions can reach six figures and carry heavy pension obligations. At least two full-time lifeguards are nearing retirement.

The vast majority of lifeguards, however, are seasonal employees who work only during the 10-week summer season.

A starting seasonal tower lifeguard earns about $17 an hour with increases based on hours worked each summer or added responsibilities, Assn. of Newport Beach Ocean Lifeguards President Chris Graham said.

The part-timers typically do not receive pensions.

"Our lifeguarding is the most efficient business model there is," Graham said.

The outsourcing plan would not affect the city's popular Junior Lifeguard program, which attracts more than 1,000 kids annually, Kiff said.

The full-time lifeguards and the top seasonal lifeguards run the eight-week program each summer, but "they're not the folks whose jobs would be affected by outsourcing at Corona del Mar," he said.

But damage would come, Mickley contends, from a missed recruiting opportunity.

Each spring, the city holds lifeguard tryouts for seasonal workers, but with the possibility of outsourcing, Mickley said it's unclear whether Newport will even hire any recruits this summer.

"We just lost the best candidates from this year," Mickley said, adding that this will have a cascading effect through other years as the high school and college kids who make up the bulk of seasonal employees graduate and move on.

Kiff dismissed the idea, saying very few new recruits are hired each year anyway, with the vast majority of seasonal employees coming back from previous years.

"That doesn't seem like a meaningful concern to me," he said.

Mickley said he understands the city's desire to save money but said "it's still very disheartening" to have a portion of the coastline taken away from them.

Like Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Seal Beach and San Clemente have their own lifeguard staffs, Kiff said, while county beaches in Laguna Beach and Dana Point are patrolled by an independent group, OC Lifeguards.

— Daily Pilot staff writer Emily Foxhall also contributed to this report.

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