JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Florida. – A Jacksonville Beach institution that has been around for more than a century could close its doors.
Since 1912, the American Red Cross Volunteer Life Savings Corps has provided lifeguard training in Jax Beach and volunteers on Sundays and holidays. But a dispute over labor law could put an end to this emblematic institution.
Supporters of the body were at City Hall on Wednesday, hoping to convince city leaders to save it. The city is involved because the lifeguards who patrol the beach Monday through Saturday are city employees, but many of them are also corps volunteers, working for free on Sundays and holidays.
After being sued, the city said it would no longer work and rejected the body’s proposal to also prevent paid employees from volunteering. It’s a move the body says would lead to its closure.
Charles Bond became a volunteer lifeguard at the age of 16. Decades later, he is still involved as chairman of the body’s board of directors.
“The body has been the most amazing thing in my life – in many people’s lives,” Bond said.
He said the body teaches valuable lessons about responsibility, service and teamwork.
“There are people from all walks of life, from all socioeconomic backgrounds, from all financial backgrounds, from all ages,” Bond said. “And for some reason, we’re drawn to this place to give back to our community.”
It’s a legendary organization that attracts lifelong volunteers like George Paugh. Lifeguards have saved countless lives, and Paugh said the body not only benefits beachgoers, but volunteers as well.
A former Jax Beach lifeguard filed a lawsuit against the city in 2021, claiming he had no choice but to join the corps to become a lifeguard, which meant he also had to volunteer, working without pay on Sundays on public holidays. He claims he was fired for complaining about it.
Bond says Jax Beach lifeguards don’t have to be corps members, but about 60% of them are.
“There is no threat of being fired or demoted or not receiving your salary, is there? We have to motivate young men and women to come here because they want to,” Bond said.
Bond said the corps had tried to work with the city to keep the volunteer organization alive, offering to separate volunteers and paid employees from the city, with the corps providing volunteers to work on Sundays and holidays.
A request for comment from the city was not returned by the publication of this article. News4JAX has also sought comment from the attorney representing the former employee.
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