PCMR ski patrollers to decide whether to unionize
December 11, 2015
The ski patrollers at Park City Mountain Resort are scheduled to decide Monday whether to unionize, a vote complicated by the merging of PCMR and Canyons Resort into a single property prior to the start of ski season.
A vote in favor of unionizing would mean all of the resort’s nearly 200 patrollers would be represented. A "No" vote would mean none of the patrollers would be able to unionize, including those from the Canyons Village base area who have been part of another union for about 15 years.
Canyons Resort and Park City Mountain Resort were separate entities until the start of this ski season. But the merger of the two areas by Vail Resorts — which owns PCMR and operates the former Canyons Resort terrain — brought questions about how to integrate the resorts’ patrols.
Complicating the situation was the fact that patrollers at Canyons Resort were unionized. The Canyons Professional Ski Patrol Association’s and Vail Resorts negotiated last spring to reach a new contract before the previous one expired in October.
They failed to reach an agreement, and when talks resumed in the fall, Vail Resorts told the association that its patrollers at the Canyons Village base area and those at the Park City base would be merged this winter. Pete Earle, president of the Canyons Professional Ski Patrol Association, said that move took the group by surprise.
"They always implied that we would be two separate entities for this winter, so when we heard that, it kind of flew in the face of everything we’d heard up to that point," Earle said. "It definitely came out of left field."
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Bill Rock, chief operating officer of Park City Mountain Resort, said the decision of whether to combine the patrols this winter was complex, but it was always Vail Resorts’ intention to integrate them, like all other departments at the merged resort.
"I think the ski patrol, given the complexities of one side being represented and one side not being represented, really made it very complicated," he said. "It was frankly not something that I’ve ever dealt with in my career, so because of the complexities, it takes a lot of moving parts to figure it out, but our intention has always been to create one, integrated resort."
But regardless of how Vail Resorts reached the decision to combine the patrols, what it meant was clear: The Canyons Professional Ski Patrol Association wouldn’t represent the majority of workers in the merged unit, meaning its influence was gone. Its contract with Vail Resorts expired Oct. 10.
The association filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to give all patrollers in the integrated unit a chance to vote on whether to form a new union. Cody Evans, a patroller who negotiated this year with Vail Resorts on behalf of the Canyons Professional Ski Patrol Association, said a new union would represent nearly 200 people, between patrollers and those in PCMR’s newly formed mountain safety position.
"We felt like everybody should at least get the opportunity to decide whether we should all be unionized or not," he said.
Monday’s vote, which will be held at both the Park City base area and the Canyons Village base area, will be supervised by an agent from the National Labor Relations Board and observed by both a representative of those wanting to unionize and Vail Resorts, Earle said.
"It’s a very official process," he said. "It’s regulated and held just like when we hold elections in November. It’s basically a democratic process, to decide whether or not we have a union."
Rock said that Vail Resorts respects the patrollers’ rights "to decide how they want to interact with us as a company." But he added that Vail Resorts sees a "No" vote as being in everyone’s best interest.
"We’d like the opportunity to prove to them what our company is all about," he said. "Neither Canyons nor Park City patrol have had much experience with us yet in a non-represented way, so we’re just asking them to consider that option."
From the perspective of Earle and others urging patrollers to unionize, having a common, united voice is crucial. He said a union would help ensure an upward path for all good patrollers who want one.
"I think it’s hard to explain that benefit (of a united voice) to someone who’s never had that," he said. "We really want to make ski patrolling a career, and the union has done a really good job through the contracts of outlining a career path for folks — you can look at that contract and see where you’ll be in five or 10 years. We see ourselves in line with firefighters, EMTs, police officers and those kind of first-responder groups, who are unionized across the country."
Rock said Vail Resorts places an emphasis on taking care of employees, providing them with good benefits packages and positive work environments. He added that a benefit of patrollers not being unionized is being able to resolve issues immediately, without having to go through a bargaining process.
"Ski patrol is one of the most important aspects of our operation," he said, adding that there are no other unions among the rest of Vail Resorts’ ski areas. "We have talented and hard-working people who are committed to their jobs and love what they do, which is incredible. And our company has an incredible track record of folks who’ve had amazing careers in ski patrol. I guess the difference is we allow people to create their own path forward and grow their careers based on their personal priorities. We don’t treat everyone the same. I would say there are incredible opportunities for advancement in our patrols that are non-represented across our whole company."
If patrollers vote to unionize, Rock said, Vail Resorts will enter into a collective bargaining process with the new union. If the vote is no, patrollers could not petition the National Labor Relations Board for another year, Earle said. Regardless, they would still show up to work Tuesday, ready to do their jobs.
"Life will go on," he said. "We just wouldn’t have the opportunity to affect our future as well as we could with the union. We’ll still show up to work, we’ll still be professional and open terrain and keep our guests safe. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re here to do."
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