Ski patrol negotiations between Vail Resorts and Canyons patrollers persist
When the Canyons Professional Ski Patrol Association sat down with Vail Resorts to negotiate this spring, Pete Earle, president of the association, was hopeful a deal would be struck before the ski season ended.
But, for a number of reasons, the two sides were not able to come to an agreement. And since several of the negotiators for the association — which is a member of the union chapter United Professional Ski Patrols of America and has long patrolled the ski area that is now known as Canyons Village at Park City — were out of town over the summer, the parties agreed to table discussions and reconvene this fall.
This summer’s merging of Canyons Resort and Park City Mountain Resort was one factor that muddied the negotiations, as the sides were uncertain how that would affect the association, Earle said.
"The company didn’t have some answers until things developed this summer," he said.
"There wasn’t any one particular sticking point," he added. "We’ve got a lot of tentative agreements on a lot of language, but until the whole deal is done everything is tentative."
Vail Resorts paying patrollers wages that allow them to live in Park City — and thus be more likely to remain working at in town long-term — is one of the most important issues for the association. A staff full of experienced patrollers equates to increased safety, both for patrollers and resort guests, but it’s becoming more difficult to keep patrollers around.
"We definitely strive to have a highly trained and high-level patrol," said Earle, who declined to provide specifics of the negotiations. "Part of that comes from training and a part of that comes from keeping people coming back. It takes several years to really become a full-fledged contributing team member. So the more we can get people back, that’s the best thing we can do to have a good, strong patrol and ensure customer safety on the hill."
Earle is optimistic that the association and Vail Resorts will reach a deal before patrollers return to work in late November. He said that’s plenty of time to hammer out the issues. In fact, it used to be standard practice for the sides not to even begin negotiating until the fall.
In an extreme scenario, patrollers could return to the slopes before an agreement is struck. That happened once before, Earle said, but he’s not certain how the details of such an occurrence would play out.
"It’s not overly concerning that we don’t have a deal yet," he said, adding that the patrollers’ current contract with Vail Resorts runs through Oct. 10. "It’s happened before. At this point, we don’t have any reason to think that we won’t have a deal."
Earle did concede that negotiating with a large company such as Vail Resorts is a tough task for the association, whose representatives are experts in ski patrolling, not negotiating.
"To a certain degree, it kind of feels like David versus Goliath," he said, adding that he’s proud of the negotiating the association has done in the past. "We certainly get lots of support from CWA (Communications Workers of America) in that regard, like resources to back us up. But basically, we walk into the negotiating room, and we have a representative from CWA there to help us, but realistically it’s a group of three or four ski patrollers using their time. And usually we’re negotiating against a couple company representatives, and they also have an outside professional negotiator."
When asked for a comment, Park City Mountain senior Manager of Communications Margo Van Ness sent the following statement: "While we don’t comment on specifics of union negotiations, per the collective bargaining agreement, the parties made earnest efforts to reach an early settlement in the spring just prior to the end of the season. Unable to reach agreement on all issues, the parties mutually agreed to reconvene in the fall."
When the association’s patrollers do get back to work, it seemingly will be as a separate entity from the patrollers at the Park City side of the resort (who are not unionized). Earle said all indications from Vail Resorts are that the merger of the two resorts has not affected how the patrol units will function.
"It’s such a big place that I think it would be challenging, from a management perspective, to have all of that fall under one umbrella, so to speak," Earle said. "I think there’s plus and minuses to both systems, but until we hear there’s going to be some integration, we haven’t thought too deeply into what that would look like and how that would all play out, to be totally honest."
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