I’ve used many of these columns to advocate for lifeguard pay. I believe that for the work they do, the training required and the responsibility — no less than human lives — they are grossly underpaid.
Our 2008 Salary Survey once again bears that out. The majority of senior lifeguards, about 42 percent, earn $7 to $8.99 an hour. Average hourly pay for nonsupervisory retail employees is $12.58, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. The disparity between those two figures speaks for itself.
The reasons for underpaying lifeguards are complex and solutions difficult, as the feature story accompanying our salary survey makes clear. I encourage all aquatics professionals to read it.
But I want to focus on another aspect of the salary survey that gets little notice: the pay of aquatics managers and supervisors. Just as it is for lifeguards, this amount is also shamefully low. How low? Nearly one-quarter of all aquatics managers earn $14 to $17.99 an hour, according to our survey. That’s the equivalent of $29,000 to $37,000 per year. For supervisors, it’s even worse. Almost 45 percent report earning $9.99 or less up to $12.99 per hour. That’s $21,000 to $27,000 a year. By comparison, the median pay for a retail store manager is $41,000 a year, according to PayScale.com, a Web site that uses government data and real earnings reports to produce compensation profiles.
OK, so maybe you say retailing can’t be compared with aquatics. It’s more like firefighters and police. Fair enough. That comparison is even more damning. Pay for first-line firefighter supervisors ranges between $42,000 to $67,000 a year. For police, it’s $47,000 to $69,000.
Why the difference between these emergency supervisors and aquatics? You could argue that police officers and firefighters have more dangerous jobs. Maybe. But I think it comes down to something else — unions.
Firefighters and police have powerful unions that have helped them earn a fair wage for the dangerous and critical work they do. In fact, the category of unionized protective service workers, which would include police and firefighters, earns over 56 percent more than nonunionized workers, according to the Labor Bureau.
Aquatics professionals deserve to be recognized for the work they do. And the best way to do that is to organize a union of aquatics professionals.
Throughout history, workers who have been underpaid or mistreated have gained considerable power and earnings through unions. Aquatics professionals from lifeguards to operators are clearly in that category.
But there’s more to unionizing than simply organizing and making demands. To be successful, workers must believe that they deserve better pay, better treatment, better conditions. They must have the respect for themselves and their profession to demand that they be shown that respect. I fear that aquatics professionals lack that spirit.
Don’t misunderstand. In my years in aquatics, professionals have shown themselves to be some of the most passionate and dedicated I’ve ever met. Many consider it a privilege to be in aquatics.
But that’s where they and the industry get it wrong. The privilege should be the public’s — the privilege to go to a swimming pool or waterpark and know that they will be safe. Professionals should be paid fairly for providing that privilege, and make no apologies for demanding that compensation.
It’s time for aquatics professionals to realize what they’re worth and get the respect — and the pay — they deserve. It’s time for aquatics professionals of the world to unite!