NB Lifeguard Controversy Goes International

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Media outlets across the nation - and across the pond - picked up on the Newport Beach lifeguard story.

It all started here, in the pages of the Newport Beach Indy. Now, it’s the talk of the nation and the world, and a blog and talk-radio cause du jour.

It’s the controversy surrounding the compensation of the 13 full-time Newport Beach city lifeguards.

As outlined by NB Indy columnist Jack Wu in last Friday’s print edition and on www.newportindy.com, the full-time, year-round lifeguards make an average of $154,000 annually in pay and benefits, including the city’s contributions to their pensions.

This is in contrast to the seasonal lifeguards that the city brings on each spring to serve through to the fall. They make $16-$22 per hour, with no benefits.

An OC Register blogger posted about it on Friday, quoting liberally from Wu’s column and including a link to the newportindy.com website.

Over the weekend, flashreport.org, a Republican insiders’ news site, noted the column.

From there, it was picked up and discussed on KFI 640AM  and then other talk-radio outlets. The story gained momentum as cable news and other outlets, such as MSNBC and The Atlantic, also picked it up.

Late this week, the story of the Newport Beach lifeguards appeared in the Daily Mail in Great Britain and in the International Business Times.

And it really hit the big time on Thursday, when it made The Drudge Report.

While most of the comments online and on the radio have been highly negative toward the lifeguards, they also have their supporters.

Brent Jacobsen, president of the Lifeguard Management Association, was widely quoted as calling the compensation fair and in line with what other city employees and other cities’ lifeguards make.

Newport Beach Councilmember Ed Selich said he and his fellow councilmembers have received more emails supporting the lifeguards than condemning them, with many citing public safety concerns about the proposed staffing cut.

The matter will be hanging around for a while, as the city moves through it budget process. The City Council held a budget study session this week and asked for some clarifications from City Manager Dave Kiff on the lifeguard proposal. The budget will be up for final adoption in June.


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  1. Mr. Jacobsen is absolutely right, the pay IS in line with what other city employees make. That is precisely what is wrong! Most all public employees are paid far more than the equivalent compensation would be in the real world, the one the rest of us live in. This is especially true about the money we pay them not to work for the rest of their lives in retirement at 50 or so.

    It is simply unsustainable and the union bosses will not give an inch. They say they do, it’s not true. When the city contributes well over 40% of their pay to their pensions and the employees pay little, there is something very wrong. The rest of us are lucky to see 4-8% and then it ends when the job ends.

    The work done is necessary, for the most part, and we do care about safety. We also care about the employees but what about the taxpayers? Who cares about us? Certainly not the union bosses, they just want more to come out of our family’s lives so they can have an easy one. I don’t blame the employees, they got promised some wonderful benefits and who wouldn’t want that. What those in office that promised them these great benefits and salaries lied about, was that it was funded. It isn’t and can’t and won’t be.

    The lifeguards are great guys, but there is little doubt we can get great employees that will do a good job for less than we are paying. It is a closed system and one city rates their pay against another city who does the same in return, circular and not realistic. The truth is we will not lose people to other cities, Irvine doesn’t need a lot of lifeguards, for example. If there is an opening in Newport, many hundreds apply. That is telling us we are paying way too much, simple to understand. If we had a problem getting people to apply, which we don’t, it would be reasonable to pay what we do or more.

    These people are costing us many millions each in retirement at 50 or so, $3-4 million each is common, do the math. The taxpayers are not going to stand by and sacrifice for what has gotten to be ridiculous compensation. The work can and will be done for less. The union bosses should be coming to the table and making real concessions or the whole thing will come crashing down.

    Most in the private sector have taken pay cuts, the unions got raises. We, the people, are tired of getting screwed. All the hollow justifications and manipulations for the union compensation are not resonating with rational people. Yes, we want safety, but don’t tell me someone wouldn’t accept and do a good job as a professional lifeguard for $100,000-120,000/year instead of $150,000. Yes, when you need one, they look awfully good and they do a good job and we are thankful for saving our lives. You can say that about a lot of people that do dangerous work that don’t make even close to these amounts. It is not about being grateful, it is simply common sense and very basic math, there is not and there will not be funding.

    The unions out-negotiated the cities, they won and we lost…or did we? How does zero sound folks, that is what it is coming to! We, the people have been pushed too far and now we are pushing back.

    • The problem isn’t the public sector making too much but the average American increasingly getting less in the private sector. Keep attacking the unions and watch the private sector worker get even less. Keep cutting taxes and watch the deficit grow and an increase in a lack of funding. Three decades of a false ideology is the main problem. Real World? Who is oursourcing jobs and too big to fail? You are pushing yourself and the rest of us – off a cliff.

  2. The Newport Beach lifeguard story went international because the newspaper, radio and television reporters did not understand the story. Everything I read, heard and saw inferred that the young people who sit in the lifeguard towers are making over $100,000 per year. Actually, as you know, those who earn that amount are management personnel. It’s like taking the salaries of the editor, managing editor and city editor of the Los Angeles Times and reporting that journalists earn over $200,000 per year.