ALBANY, N.Y. February 25, 2009 - Along with their whistles, sun block and rescue buoys, some 1,200 state lifeguards, including nearly 500 who protect beachgoers on Long Island's shores, will be carrying something else on their stands this summer - a NYSUT union card.
New York State United Teachers announced today that state-employed lifeguards who protect pools, lakes and beaches from Lake Erie to Montauk are affiliating with the 600,000-member union. The NYSUT Board of Directors will formally vote to accept the new local union - known as the New York State Lifeguard Corps - on Saturday, ending a nearly six-year legal odyssey that started when lifeguards began seeking better pay, improved training and safety equipment, and a voice in their working conditions.
"You don't know how important a lifeguard is until you need one. Lifeguards are true professionals who train all year long and take their jobs very seriously. Many have risked their lives diving into the rough surf or fighting rip tides to save their fellow New Yorkers from injury or death," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "They deserve what all working people deserve - fair pay, a consistent discipline process, good working conditions and the right to sit down with management to discuss their concerns."
Tom Donovan, president of the Jones Beach Lifeguard Corps and acting leader of the new statewide lifeguards union, said, "After so many years, I'm thrilled to have a union that will work with NYSUT to improve conditions for all lifeguards across the state."
"Affiliating with NYSUT will enable us to better serve the public and the cause of public safety," added Bruce Meirowitz, a lifeguard for more than 40 years and vice president of the Jones Beach Lifeguard Corps.
"We're not looking at this as union versus management," Meirowitz said. "We want to create an atmosphere where it's the union and the state Parks and Recreation Department working together as real partners to improve safety for the public. After some dark times, we are enjoying a renaissance in our relationship with the Parks Department and we hope this era of communications and collaboration will continue."
The state's lifeguards come to NYSUT after a long affiliation with the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA). In September 2003, however, lifeguards – led by the Jones Beach Lifeguard Corps representing 500 guards on Long Island – petitioned the state Public Employment Relations Board for "fragmentation" of all lifeguard job titles from the Security Services Unit of NYSCOPBA, saying they wanted stronger, more direct representation.
Council 82 of AFSCME intervened and sought to represent the lifeguards. After years of discussion and litigation, a non-monetary settlement agreement was reached and both Council 82 and NYSCOPBA withdrew, clearing the way for NYSUT, the lifeguards, Governor's Office of Employee Relations and the other parties to finalize the affiliation agreement on Jan. 15, 2009.
For bargaining purposes, the lifeguards' union will be placed under the State University Professional Services Negotiating Unit in the contract covering members of United University Professions, the union representing faculty and professionals at the State University of New York.
Nationally, the New York State Lifeguards Corps union will be members of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents some 600,000 classroom teachers and other school employees; faculty and other professionals at the state's community colleges, State University of New York and City University of New York, and other education and health professionals. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.