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Psy asks El Monte to give 'Gangnam' lifeguards their jobs back

September 14, 2012 |  1:21 pm

Psy, the performer behind the viral video sensation "Gangnam Style," is throwing his support behind 13 El Monte city lifeguards and their supervisor who lost their jobs for parodying the popular hit.

"Unfortunately, I'm a rookie here. When I become a big star here, I really want to help them out because that's not fair. I don't think so," Psy said on MTV. "What did they do? They weren't wrong? I think it was off duty—that's what I heard. They can be more flexible to each other."

Psy asked the city's mayor to give the group their jobs back.

"If you may know me or not, but if you know me and if not sooner you're going to know me, I'm begging you to not fire please," Psy pleaded. "Because they were enjoying their souls with some other cultures and it was even off-duty ... so please if you know me."

The lifeguards and their supervisor were fired for making "Lifeguard Style," a video spoof of the popular South Korean pop song.

In an email, Mayor Andre Quintero told The Times he has seen the video and lessons can be learned from the experience.

"If these employees wanted to produce a video for their own enjoyment and memories, they could have asked for permission and shared the video with their family and friends using a medium that is less public," he said.

"Fortunately for them," he added, "the video has received positive attention, but it could have just as easily received negative attention."

The video’s creators, however, said they just “wanted to try something fun.”

Michael Roa, a University of La Verne student who worked at the El Monte Aquatic Center for seven years, edited and posted the group's performance Aug. 26.

"We were trying out some dance moves," he said. "We didn't think we did anything offensive."

Roa and his co-workers, college-age students, are getting offers of legal help in their quest to win back their jobs. But they say they will hold off until Sept. 18, when they intend to make a direct appeal to the City Council.

The video is one in a small barrage of "Gangnam" spoofs that are bombarding the Web, with everyone from Britney Spears to the Oregon Ducks mascot and friends shaking up in their own version. There's even a Mitt Romney parody.

"Gangnam Style" leapt to No. 1 on the iTunes music video chart, the first time a South Korean artist has ranked that high. It has received more than 149 million YouTube views.

"It's comical, it's catchy. News anchors dance to it. People hum to it. It came up on my screen on Yahoo News this morning. It's just so insane," said Shiloh Jin, 24, who along with her parents runs a wholesale shoe business in downtown Los Angeles.

With the popularity of the lifeguard spoof, some of the fired employees say city officials are missing a golden opportunity to use their video to market the city — rather than bask in negative publicity.

A Facebook page launched by the fired workers, "Bring Back the 14 El Monte Lifeguards," had won the support of more than 11,000 fans as of late Tuesday.

"There was no due process in terms of what happened to us," said Roa, 22.

The lifeguards and their manager, all part-time employees, earned $9.54 to $14.20 an hour, according to Robert Alaniz, a city spokesman.

Last week, supervisors in El Monte's Parks and Recreation Division called in Roa and the others, including the manager -- who did not appear in the video -- and asked them to review pages from a staff manual before being terminated, according to Roa and lifeguard Yvonne Tam, a UC Santa Barbara student.

In a statement, city officials said the lifeguards made an "unauthorized video" while using city resources without permission, namely their distinctive red swim trunks and the city pool.

"I understand we broke policies," said Tam, 20, an economics and accounting major, "but we did not vandalize or damage property. Maybe they would consider suspension or a write-up so we don't have it on our resume for the future."

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-- Richard Winton and Anh Do

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