Some city lifeguards will not work this summer despite a lifeguard shortage because of a change in how Raleigh allocates hours for part-time employees.
The lifeguards have bumped up against a city rule that prevents them from working 1,000 hours or more in a year, or about 20 hours each week.
They could return to work later this summer, when the clock resets in August, but some may have left for other employment.
“It’s going to depend on the person, and we’re hoping to get them back, but we understand if they can’t,” said Terri Stroupe, Raleigh’s aquatics director.
Stroupe said about 15 aquatics employees have been affected by the change so far, and more could hit the cap this summer.
In late May, the city needed 50 more certified lifeguards to keep the pools running at full capacity this summer. While all nine of the city’s pools will be open, the city said it would cut hours, cancel after-hours rentals or limit access to wading pools or diving areas because of the shortage.
Stroupe said a surge of last-minute applications has started to close the gap.
Scott Payne, assistant director of the parks and recreation department, said the rule is not the only factor driving the shortage. It has become harder to find lifeguards, after years when the job was popular, especially among high school and college students, he said.
“Guards are just hard to find,” he said.
Stroupe has said a variety of reasons may be responsible for the decline: a lack of interest in lifeguarding, other job opportunities and higher pay rates elsewhere.
The city rule for part-time employees stems from a state law that requires employees who work 1,000 or more hours to be enrolled in retirement benefits that both the city and employee contribute to.
Raleigh officials last year discovered that about 215 part-time employees, most of them in the parks department, were working beyond that limit without getting retirement benefits, city staff said at the time. The city restructured a number of jobs to come into compliance.
Some workers became full time, some part-timers had their schedules cut so they wouldn’t qualify for retirement benefits, and other part-timers continued to work beyond 1,000 hours and were enrolled in the retirement program.
Carol Burgess, a regular early-morning swimmer at the city’s pools, learned about the changes this spring when she arrived to swim at Millbrook Exchange Park and found the gates locked until later in the day.
She’s disappointed for long-time employees who have hit the limit.
“The city wants us to have all these wonderful parks,” she said. “They should take care of the employees who work there.”
Jimmie Overton, facility director at Optimist Pool, said the city’s rule affects the range of skills lifeguards have as well as how many are available to work.
Many of the lifeguards who have had to stop working for the year also were qualified to manage the pool, teach swim classes and train other lifeguards.
“We lost some of our most experienced people,” Overton said.
Payne said the changes affected about 10 percent of the 2,000 part-time staff members who work for the parks and recreation department each year. The city will look at how the scheduling changes worked in the first year and how to modify them.
“All change has a little heartburn, but you evaluate it and adjust,” he said.
He said the department also is looking for ways to increase the number of lifeguards, through programming that reaches certain populations or by contracting for some services.