Park City Mountain’s ski patrol union negotiates with Vail Resorts for new contract | ParkRecord.com

Park City Mountain’s ski patrol union negotiates with Vail Resorts for new contract

A two-year contract between the Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association and Vail Resorts is up for renewal.

Leaders of the association say most of the framework for the next contract is included in the previous pact, which expired Wednesday, but there are some edits they are seeking while negotiating with Park City Mountain Resort's parent company. The association is part of the labor union Communications Workers of America.

The process is going much smoother than it did during the first round of negotiations between the parties a few years ago, according to the association.

That is a stark contrast to the association's rocky start three years ago. Ski patrol members were split down previous resort lines nearly 50-50 about the decision to unionize after Vail Resorts merged the former Canyons Resort and PCMR into a single ski area, and negotiations persisted for a year before the union and the company agreed on a contract. Vail Resorts was not in favor of the unionization of the ski patrol.

Julia Edwards, business manager and a member of the negotiating team for the association, said both sides have positive attitudes about the current process.

"I'm really happy with the tone of negotiations," she said. "Both the company and the union wants a qualified, expert-based patrol."

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Bill Rock, chief operating officer of PCMR, agreed.

"We are having productive conversations and believe both parties are working in good faith towards a new collective bargaining agreement," he said in a prepared statement in response to a Park Record interview request.

Edwards said despite initial "apprehension and misunderstanding" about the unionization process, the union now has a good relationship with the management team.

"I think it has been a really good learning opportunity for all parties," she said.

For example, she said the association has a better understanding now of how to work with the Vail Resorts' management team.

It was the first time most ski patrollers on the Park City side of the resort had worked under a unionized contract. The former Canyons Resort had a union in place for several years when Vail Resorts purchased the area, but Park City Mountain Resort did not.

Robby Young, president of the association, said since the group was new, it had to negotiate a contract from scratch rather than working off an existing agreement. He said there were some parts of the former Canyons Resort contract that were included in the new one, but other aspects were left out.

This time around, he said improving patroller retention is driving most of the discussions.

"A lot of our talks have been focused on how to retain employees for a longer run," he said. "Employees are trying to start families, trying to put roots down in Summit County and trying to work as a career patroller. We are working on things to help make that a possibility."

He said the high cost of living in Park City and the surrounding area often makes it difficult for ski patrol members to make ends meet with their wages.

Edwards said several ski patrol members work multiple jobs in order to afford living expenses, and they often grow tired of the grind and leave. She said it is normal for employees to come and go, but the amount of turnover has been a point of concern over the last few years.

She said because of the resort's large size and the unpredictable snowpack, experienced patrol members with institutional knowledge are critical for smooth operations and increased safety.

"We certainly want people to be here for the long haul, and I think both sides can definitely agree on that," Young said.

Young and Edwards said there were some successes stemming from the previous contract they hope to see continue. Edwards mentioned the creation of a safety committee that works with management to discuss ways safety can be improved at the resort.

Young said the union does seem to have more support this time around. The majority of the approximate 200 ski patrollers, including mountain safety patrollers, are members of the union, which he said is an improvement from most of the Park City-side patrollers voting against the decision to unionize three years ago.

He said contract negotiations have moved forward since the parties started meeting in the late summer. The association and its members plan to operate without a contract until an agreement is made. He said the two parties plan to have another contract in place at the beginning of December, after the opening of the resort.

The next contract is expected to also be a two-year agreement, he said.

"We are always hoping to make a stronger working agreement for our membership. We want to be the best ski patrol in the country, and we want a contract that reflects that," Edwards said.