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Lifeguards rally for raises at Jones Beach

Long Island lifeguards participate in this year's Jones

Long Island lifeguards participate in this year's Jones Beach Lifeguard Tournament. Teams of up to eight lifeguards from Jones Beach, Robert Moses, Tobay, Fire Island and Long Beach competed in several different categories including a two-mile beach run, landline rescue, and distance paddle and swim among others. (July 17, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

More than 70 lifeguards rallied Tuesday on the Jones Beach boardwalk, demanding raises that they haven't received for nearly 10 years.

"What do we say to the governor?" Tom Donovan, 63, president of the Jones Beach Lifeguard Corps, said into a microphone while standing atop a wooden picnic table.

"Pay us!" The crowd yelled.

"What do we do? Thirty-six hundred rescues last year, thirty-six hundred people went home to their families," said Donovan, a 45-year lifeguard. "We step up every day . . . New York State has to step up and take care of us."

The Jones Beach lifeguards are part of the New York State Lifeguard Corps, which represents 1,000 state lifeguards -- 500 at Long Island state parks. The last contract they had with the state expired in 2003, said Donovan, of West Islip.

From 2003 to 2009, state lifeguards were represented by the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association Inc., Donovan said. The lifeguards decertified from this union in 2009, he said, because they did not feel adequately represented. Requests for comment from that union were not successful.

The past three years have been spent negotiating a contract with the state through the United University Professions local affiliate of the New York State United Teachers union, which represents about 600,000 teachers, college faculty and health professionals.

The union has met with the state three times since the early fall, United Teachers spokesman Carl Korn said.

But the union has been met with stall tactics, said Bruce Meirowitz, a union member and president of the New York State Lifeguard Corps. "Since we're the little guy, we're getting stepped on," said Meirowitz, 61, of Sound Beach.

Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for the governor's office, said, "We will continue to balance protection of taxpayers with fair labor contracts, and negotiations with the lifeguards will continue to that end."

Azzopardi would not discuss specifics about negotiations. Joseph Bress, one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's appointed labor negotiators, with whom the union will meet July 26 and 27, did not respond to requests for comment.

Lifeguards make $15 per hour on average, Donovan said, adding that they don't receive sick days, holiday pay or medical benefits. The union wants about $20 an hour, about a 33 percent increase from its previous contract, which ended nearly 10 years ago, plus retroactive pay, he said.

For Brad Hepworth, 36, of North Bellmore, that increase could make a difference.

"I have two children at home and a wife . . . Everything is going up," said Hepworth, who works at Robert Moses State Park in the summers. He teaches high school English in Garden City. "I don't think it's ludicrous to get a pay raise in 10 years."

Lifeguards are eligible for pensions through the Employees Retirement System, part of the state and local retirement system, said Eric Sumberg, spokesman for the state comptroller's office. Teachers, some of whom double as lifeguards during the summer, "can collect pension credits in both systems if they meet all of their requirements," Sumberg said.

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