Summer hijinks

The lifeguards are striking, ergo it must be summer. Labor strife at our beaches is as regular as the seasons.

Israelis and tourists at Tel Aviv beach 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Havakuk Levison)
Israelis and tourists at Tel Aviv beach 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Havakuk Levison)
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 taxes.
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 it operates.
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.
The immediate upshot is that of Tel Aviv’s 13 supervised beaches, only seven will remain fully open.
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 more pay.
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.
Indeed the 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.