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Barton Springs lifeguard says why he thinks Austin lifeguards don't want the job amid shortage

(City of Austin)

Fewer than half of the city’s pools will open for summer while the Aquatic Department works to fill out its shriveled roster.

The city needs 750 to be fully staffed and is currently working with a pool of 234 lifeguards—31% of employees needed—on staff as of Monday. Come June 6, only 15 of the city’s 34 pools will open.

The job pays between $16-$19 an hour, anyone over 15 can get certified and there are bonuses to the tune of $1,250 on the table but some workers and city representatives say the pay doesn’t match the work.

Barton Springs Pool lifeguard Scott Cobb told Austonia the job is “very satisfying,” which is why he’s been doing it for the last 11 years. However, Cobb believes the shortage can be partially attributed to wages not rising alongside inflation, unpaid training, limited benefits and unstable hours.

(City of Austin)

“If you factor in the increase in inflation over the last three years and rent, our pay has actually gone down. We've taken a pay cut in order to remain lifeguards,” Cobb said. “People work 30-40 hours, get as many hours as they can, but they don't have any money left and a living wage means that at the end of the month, you're supposed to have some money left.”

Cobb advocated for Austin City Council to waive the $20 registration fee for the lifeguard course, which he said will make going through a 40-hour unpaid training and making up lost income more accessible. He's still working to get lifeguard wages raised to $22/hour in October.

The cause has gained the support of Council Members Vanessa Fuentes and José Vela, a former Barton Springs lifeguard himself, who both said they support raising wages to $22/hour.

Cobb said that it is hard to qualify for benefits, hours fluctuate depending on the season, there is a physical demand for the job, and lifeguards are not given paid time off or holiday pay, despite having to work most holidays.

“Although I have health insurance through the city, I'm afraid that in October when they reevaluate I will lose that health insurance because of the closing of the pools,” Cobb said. “The reason there's a lifeguard shortage is because at the current rate, people do not want to do this job.”

(Jose Vela)

A May 9 presentation to Vela by lifeguards showed proposed compensation structure, mentioning how cities like Phoenix curbed shortages by paying higher bonuses and proposed raising pool entrance fees by $1-3 to help offset costs.

“The type of people who work at Barton Springs enjoy it the most on the busiest days,” Cobb said. “It's satisfying to save people's lives and bring them out of the water. They're grateful... It's a job to help people and people enjoy that as long as they can, but there's a limit and people rely on better paying jobs.”

Starting on Memorial Day, Barton Springs Pool will resume Monday operations. Click here to see a full list of opening pools.


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