Lionized -- and trivialized -- by movies and TV shows, especially the long-running "Baywatch," they too have been hit by the tsunami against public employees with six-figure paychecks and pensions.
If cops and firefighters are reviled for retiring at age 50 or 55 with a guaranteed yearly income of more than $100,000, imagine the riptide sucking at those drawing a similar check -- with a cost-of-living adjustment and lifetime medical benefits -- after years of doing what the public envisions as nothing more than working on a tan and flirting with the eye candy.
"I supervised 13, 14 engineers when I was working and I was making $111,000 when I retired three years ago with an MBA and a technical engineering degree," wrote Leonard Musgrave, 69, who, in his letter to the Orange County Register, said he doesn't have a pension. "I mean, come on! All you have to do is look at good-looking women at the beach. I mean, they shouldn't even get paid! I'd do it for 10% of that pay." Post continues after video.
The uproar focused on the lifeguards of Newport Beach, a city just south of Los Angeles. Wrote The Associated Press:
Base salaries for Newport Beach lifeguards range from $58,000 for the lowest-paid officer to $108,492 for the top-paid battalion chief, according to a 2010 city report on lifeguard pay.
With overtime, more than half of the 13 full-time lifeguards cleared $100,000, while the rest made between $59,500 and $98,500. Adding in pension contributions, medical benefits, life insurance and other pay, two battalion chiefs earned more than $200,000 in 2010, while the lowest-paid officer made more than $98,000.
Full-time lifeguards currently have a contract that makes them eligible for retirement at age 50 with 30 years of service. They would receive 90% of their salary.A lifeguard there recently retired with a yearly pension of $108,000 at age 51, a City Council member told the Los Angeles Times.
Faced with public outrage, and layoffs, the lifeguards quickly negotiated a deal that cut pensions for new hires by as much as 50%, and increased their pension contributions, to 9% of their pay from 3.5%.
So how do fit young men and women in red bathing suits end up being compensated like firefighters and police?
They are needed. Newport Beach is a city of 85,000, but its 8.7 miles of ocean and bay sands and waters attracted more than 7 million people in 2010, despite a cooler-than-usual summer. That means a bundle of money coming in from outside the community, and it means it is best not to let them drown.
According to city figures, the lifeguards made 2,190 water rescues in 2010, responded to more than 5,000 medical calls and issued more than 76,000 warnings about rip currents or high tides. Two people died.
These are pros. The people getting these wages and benefits are not just summer fill-ins, armed with a good swimming stroke and CPR and first aid training. "Full-time professional lifeguarding is a well-respected profession that requires education, extensive training and experience," Newport Beach said in a statement on its website, adding that "lifeguards are paid and compensated in a manner in line with professional lifeguarding in Southern California."
According to AP:
Those whose salaries are in question point out that they hold management roles, have decades of service and are considered public safety employees under the fire department, the same as fire captains and battalion chiefs. The full-time guards train more than 200 seasonal lifeguards who make between $16 and $22 an hour (and) run a junior lifeguard program that brings in $1 million a year.Their duties, in many cases, include a lot more than just patrolling. About 90 miles south of Newport Beach lies San Diego, one of the top tourist destinations in America and home of 24 miles of beach. Here is a lifeguard's job description in that city, according to B. Chris Brewster, former San Diego lifeguard chief and president of the U.S. Lifesaving Association:
The full-time lifeguard staff are all peace officers, though not armed with firearms, and EMTs (emergency medical technicians). They staff a 24-hour, 9-1-1 dispatch center. A minimum of four are on duty 24 hours a day.
They handle dozens of cliff rescues each year, staff the fire-rescue boats for Mission Bay, respond to offshore emergencies, partner with the San Diego Police Department to form the city's Dive Team (including underwater search, recovery, and evidence gathering), and staff the city's renowned River Rescue Team. That team is part of the national Urban Search and Rescue team network and was dispatched to Hurricane Katrina.The AP reports that while lifeguard pay is pretty standardized along the Southern California coast, the pensions have been quite a bit higher in Newport Beach. In Los Angeles County, lifeguards can retire at 50 for 60% of pay, and in San Diego, retire at 55 at 75%.
Commented "phdinresidence," writing to ABC News: