The lifeguards are striking, ergo it must be summer. Labor strife at our beaches
is as regular as the seasons.
Nearly half of Tel Aviv’s beaches are to be
closed off at the height of the season, just before school is out for the summer
and during the greatest influx of tourists.
Given the well-established
patterns of yesteryear, this was only to be expected.
Indeed, it is a
safe bet that as the bathing season opens, lifeguards will announce some sort of
work dispute. Their protest action essentially heralds the official annual
reopening of the beaches to swimmers.
This is as certain as death and
In keeping with perennial routine, trouble is again brewing at Tel
Aviv’s beaches, doubtless due to the city’s centrality and the number of beaches
Tel Aviv has Israel’s largest municipal lifeguard contingent
and has been embroiled in an unending wage dispute with them that is restarted
as the weather heats up.
Unrest eventually spreads to other seaside
towns, or their lifeguards are simply promised whatever their Tel Aviv
counterparts manage to gain via strikes. What happens in Tel Aviv is, therefore,
key each summer.
One day into this year’s bathing season, Tel Aviv’s
municipality received official notice from its lifeguards that the younger and
least veteran among them would not be working any overtime.
upshot is that of Tel Aviv’s 13 supervised beaches, only seven will remain fully
The others – Aviv, Bograshov, Gordon, Hilton, Tel Baruch and Tzuk
Darom – will be closed to the public.
Tel Aviv’s lifeguard corps number
53; 37 of them are tenured municipal employees and the others are hired
seasonally. There are also differentiations among the 37 tenured lifeguards, 23
of whom, referred to as “Generation A lifeguards,” are covered by the terms of
older collective agreements. These are considered preferable to the terms of
later agreements under which the rest of the tenured lifeguards – “Generation B”
– are employed.
It’s the “Generation B” lifeguards and the summertime
temps – 30 in all and well over half the beach rescue staff – who announced the
latest work to rules. They demand a contractual upgrade, which in essence means
The city contends that the absence during half the day of 30
lifeguards would force it to hire 30 more to cover the remaining hours. That, of
course, would impose greater expense on the municipality directly and on
taxpayers indirectly, as would hiking the lifeguards wages.
As in other
cities, tenured lifeguards collect pay all year round, though they hardly work
during the winter.
The Tel Aviv case illustrates that finances and
manpower logistics are inextricably intertwined. The lifeguards aren’t
altruistic. Their disputes never occur off-season. There are never
confrontations in January but always in June, when they do most damage. This is
identical to what we see among teachers, whose favorite strike time is
matriculation exam season or the opening of the school year.
lifeguards and teachers have much in common. They are among the public sector
employees and providers of essential services who can wield most clout and wreak
havoc with our daily lives – like sanitation workers, firemen, ambulance
drivers, airport personnel, etc. They are the workforce’s most “trigger-happy,”
and likeliest to strike or work-to-rules precisely on those dates where they can
inflict the greatest pain on the public.
The most glaring example these
days of seizing the occasion comes from London, where bus drivers are
threatening crippling walkouts precisely during the 2012 Olympic Games, due to
open in the British capital next month. It is exactly such opportunistic logic
that triggers the summertime hijinks of our lifeguards.
The only way to
once and for all discontinue the yearly disgrace is through legislation that
would limit union ability to shut down essential services. Labor chieftains must
be made personally accountable for the harm they recklessly wreak.