JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – A Jacksonville Beach institution that has been around for more than a century could be shutting down.
The American Red Cross Volunteer Life Savings Corps has provided Jax Beach lifeguard training and volunteers on Sundays and holidays since 1912. But a dispute over labor laws could bring the iconic institution to an end.
Supporters of the corps were at City Hall on Wednesday, hoping to convince city leaders to save it. The city is involved because the lifeguards who watch the beach Mondays through Saturdays are employees of the city, but many of them are also volunteers with the corps, working for free on Sundays and holidays.
After getting sued, the city has said that’s not going to work anymore, according to the corps’ former board president. He says if the city doesn’t accept their proposal to keep paid employees from also volunteering, the corps will be dissolved.
Charles Bond became a volunteer lifeguard when he was 16. Decades later, he’s still involved as president of the corps’ board of directors.
“The corps has been the most amazing thing in my life — in many people’s lives,” Bond said.
He said the corps teaches valuable lessons about responsibility, service and teamwork.
“There are people from all walks of life, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all financial backgrounds, all different ages,” Bond said. “And for whatever reason, we’re drawn to this place to give back to our community.”
It’s a storied organization that draws in some volunteers for life — like George Paugh. Lifeguards have saved countless lives and Paugh said the corps benefits not just beachgoers, but the 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 holidays. He claims he was fired for complaining about it.
Bond says Jax Beach lifeguards don’t have to be members of the corps, but about 60% of them are.
“There’s no threat of being fired or demoted or not getting your paycheck, right? We have to motivate young men and women come down here because they want to,” Bond said.
Bond said the corps has tried to work with the city to keep the volunteer organization alive, offering to keep volunteers and paid city employees separate, with the corps providing volunteers to work Sundays and holidays.
A request for comment from the city was not returned by publication of this article. News4JAX has also requested comment from the attorney who represents the former employee.