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Insurgent wave of lifeguards seeks union seats


This story has been updated to reflect that Local 461's elections will be held later this month, and not this week as previously scheduled.

A group of lifeguards who work in the city’s pools year-around are organizing a slate to run in upcoming leadership elections for Local 461 of District Council 37, the union representing nearly 1,200 seasonal and year-round lifesavers who supervise the city’s pools and beaches. 

At the helm of the insurgent group is Kristoff Borrel, a lifeguard and union member since 2010, who is running for president of the local. 

“I’m running to put the power back into the hands of the rank and file,” Borrel, who’s worked at several pools in Queens, told The Chief last week. "The current environment seems adversarial and lacks transparency. We haven’t been able to articulate issues and those that we have done have fallen on deaf ears.” 

The union’s current president, Alma Diamond, was elected in Feb 2021 after a group of seasonal lifeguards were barred from running because they hadn’t paid dues for several months. The president before Diamond, Franklyn “Bubba” Paige, was in power for decades before he was ousted by the judicial board of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 461’s parent union, in 2020 for failing to hold meetings or allow seasonal lifeguards to participate in elections. 

Despite that decision, seasonal lifeguards weren’t allowed to vote or run in the 2021 election and Paige, who was present in the nominations meeting the day before the election, handpicked Diamond to run for president. 

A year-round lifeguard, Edwin Agramonte, was given the green light and opposed Diamond in 2021 but received no votes and later sued the union, alleging that it breached its constitution by preventing seasonal lifeguards, with whom he had formed a slate, from running.  

Agramonte is running for a delegate position as part of Borrel’s slate this time around, determined, he said, to oust the union’s longtime leadership he says has retaliated against him since he started speaking out.  

Edwin Agramonte is running for delegate in elections for Local 461 of District Council 37.
Edwin Agramonte is running for delegate in elections for Local 461 of District Council 37.

"Our main objective is to take over our local because the local has been run and controlled by Peter Stein for nearly 50 years," Agramonte said, referring to the president of DC 37 Local 508, which represents lifeguard supervisors. Stein has been president of that local for decades and has allies in Local 461 in Paige and Diamond, lifeguards said.  

Representatives with Local 461 could not be reached for comment. 

Agramonte and Borrel told The Chief they’re supported by most year-round lifeguards and are confident they can corral enough votes to oust 461’s incumbents even if seasonal lifeguards are not allowed to vote. They pledge that this year will be different than three years ago, if only because only year-round lifeguards are running as part of their slate and more of the members with voting power are aware of what he and others alleges is the corruption and anti-democratic leadership that pervades the local’s current leadership. 

“The majority of voters work in my pool,” Agramonte said. “And I’m gonna make sure that the people who work with me vote for Kristoff.” 

‘Iced out’ 

Borrel said he had never been to a union meeting before 2020. He was inspired to get involved with the union when Paige was ousted and Diamond, the new president, held membership meetings. Borrel soon found, though, that he wasn’t always invited to meetings — neither he nor Agramonte were invited to the most recent membership meeting in December, he said — and realized that leadership was still unwilling to engage with rank-and-file members or commit to transparent decision-making. 

“It seems like I’ve been iced out of the union,” Borrel said. 

Omer Ozcan, a former seasonal lifeguard who helped bring the charges against Paige that got him ousted, said that he, and other lifeguards who have spoken out have been retaliated against and barred from union meetings. He was cautiously hopeful about Borrel's election chances, cautioning that Stein and his supporters have found what he characterized as crafty and underhanded ways to stay in power before. 

“They might win,” Ozcan said. “But nothing Peter Stein does is fair, so I’m sure he’ll find some way to cheat them out of it.” 

Janet Fash, a longtime chief lifeguard who has advocated for greater union democracy as a member of Local 508, told The Chief that the news of an insurgent slate in Local 461 “made my day.” 

“If these lifeguards are running for the right reasons, I think that’s so great because for so long we’ve been under unfair leadership,” Fash said. “That would make me so happy if finally, the reign of terror is over. I’m thrilled and I’m excited about it.” 

According to a notice sent by Diamond, nominations for the union's top positions will be heard in a virtual meeting Feb. 29. Elections for Local 461 are traditionally held the day after the nominations meeting, but if that schedule is followed, the voting date would be March 1 and Local 461’s constitution mandates that their elections be held in February. 

But the 2021 election was the first to be held in February in 25 years, with prior votes being held over the summer despite the requirement. DC 37 did not return a request for comment on possible constitutional issues regarding the scheduling of this week’s election. 

Agramonte said that once at the union’s helm, he and the other lifeguards on Borrel’s slate would engage with seasonal lifeguards by increasing transparency, particularly with regard to the union’s overall role, by alerting members to meetings and elections, and by informing seasonal lifeguards on how to stay in good standing so they can continue to vote in union elections. He said he would be open to moving elections to the summer and to exploring other possible changes.  

“The union right now does not give seasonals information on how to participate in the union,” Agramonte said. “Once we take over the local, we’ll give our members more information so they will be able to participate.”  


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