SD Lifeguards to City Management: ‘No Tommy Bahama Gear Needed'

A big-money corporate sponsorship deal with the City of San Diego is running into choppy waters.

The Tommy Bahama Group wants to outfit the Fire-Rescue Department’s Lifeguards Division, as it does for its counterparts in the city of Chicago.

The catch is, San Diego lifeguards aren't on board.

The marketing proposal -- worth $370,000 for the first contract year, with a second-year option -- has become a proxy for labor-management issues that go beyond the free gear and revenue involved.

Rank-and-file lifeguards say the city needs to concentrate more on their health, safety and morale while rustling up deals that exploit their work and images.

"It's frivolous stuff, it’s stuff that is going to mean nothing to the person I’ve got swim out and rescue,” declares Lifeguard Sgt. Ed Harris, union representative for Teamsters Local 911, which comprises 100 full-time city lifeguards.

“(People) don't care that Tommy Bahama just gave this city a uniform or whatever else,” Harris told NBC 7 in an interview Friday. “They want that a lifeguard that's well-trained, headed out on the beach. They want to insure that fireboat the city spent $800,000 on has a training plan and funding so it's not sitting there like it is today."

Another lifeguard beef is waiting for essential facilities funded long ago to be completed -- such as a $500,000 “ready room” at the headquarters complex for lifeguards to stay in during 24-hour “night response” shifts, and two new shore towers in La Jolla.

Their boss, a 28-year veteran of the division, says he completely understands their frustrations.

"Lifeguard Division management and lifeguard labor have a really long history of working well together,” Capt. Rick Wurts told NBC 7. “And so any questions, ideas that are out there that they want to talk more about, we are wide open and we want to have a relationship where's there's ongoing give-and-take."

Harris, by the way, thinks his lifeguard union members probably would opt for brands such as Hurley, Rusty or Quicksilver -- at least the younger ones.

But Tommy Bahama was the only sports apparel vendors responding to city requests for bids.

A City Council committee will review the proposal next week.

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