Park City Mountain mechanics, electricians followed path to union |

Park City Mountain mechanics, electricians followed path to union

Pamela Manson
A Park City Mountain lift mechanic performs line work maintenance during the summer off-season. | Courtesy of the Park City Lift Maintenance instagram account

When Park City Mountain lift mechanics and electricians voted Tuesday to unionize, they embarked on the same path taken by ski patrollers at their resort and others in the western United States, to negotiate for better wages and working conditions through collective bargaining.

In a 35-6 vote, the workers became what are believed to be the first unionized ski resort mechanics in the country. The election was conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, with voting taking place Monday and Tuesday.

Park City Mountain lift mechanic Liesl Jenkins said she does not know specifically what will change because the mechanics and electricians do not have a current contract with parent company Vail Resorts. “That is exactly why we unionized … to be able to have a collective bargaining contract,” she said.

Supporters of the effort to form the Park City Lift Maintenance Professional Union have said they want to address issues that include dangerous work conditions and low pay. The beginning pay for mechanics went up to $21 an hour in the spring but as the workers gain more knowledge and skills, they are not compensated appropriately, Jenkins said.

The union will be organized under the United Professional Ski Patrols of America, Local 7781 of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

“By unionizing we are no longer passengers, but active participants in the direction Park City Mountain Resort and Vail Resorts Management Company are headed,” Christopher Field, an intermediate electrician at Park City Mountain, said in a CWA Local 7781 news release.

Park City Mountain lift mechanics perform line work maintenance during the summer off-season. | Courtesy of the Park City Lift Maintenance instagram account

Deirdra Walsh, Park City Mountain vice president and chief operating officer, said the resort cares deeply about all of its employees and will do what’s right for its team members regardless of the outcome of the vote.

“While we are disappointed with the result, we are grateful to those who took the time to vote,” Walsh said in an email. “As we have shared both publicly and to our team throughout this process, we sincerely believe that direct communication works best to build strong relationships, ensure a safe working environment, and allow every employee’s voice to be heard through direct and open dialogue.”

Park City Mountain has demonstrated that by increasing wages and investing in affordable housing, mental health, leadership development and other benefits this year, she said.

In its November/December issue, Outside magazine says it has been long accepted that ski resorts and other outdoor employers, such as mountain and river outfitters, “pay the low wages they do by supplementing employees with a dreamy lifestyle.”

However, with housing prices in mountain communities skyrocketing, workers — including patrollers in particular — have responded by unionizing to demand better wages, according to Outside. Since 2019, “patrols at Breckenridge and Purgatory in Colorado, Stevens Pass in Washington, and Big Sky in Montana have all organized, following in the footsteps of unionized Colorado patrols like Aspen, Crested Butte, Steamboat, and Telluride,” the magazine says.

The Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association, which is part of CWA Local 7781, reached an agreement last January with Vail Resorts that averted a strike. The negotiations, which had lasted for two years, resulted in an average hourly wage of $19 for ski patrollers.

Then in March, Vail Resorts raised the minimum wage to $20 an hour for all employees at its 37 North American mountain resorts and its corporate office for the 2022-2023 winter season and implemented increases for hourly employees with adjustments based on career stage and leadership differentials. A $21 per hour minimum was implemented for patrol employees, maintenance technicians and certified commercial vehicle drivers.

“We plan to aggressively pursue building new affordable housing on the land we own, and pursue company leases in existing affordable housing developments, so we can make housing more accessible and affordable for our employees,” Vail CEO Kirsten Lynch said at the time in a letter to Vail employees.

The mechanics’ unionization election came a few weeks after Park City Mountain dropped in SKI Magazine’s annual reader ranking of North America’s ski resorts. The Park City resort placed No. 30 in the magazine’s list of resorts in the West, down from No. 13 a year ago.

The resort’s weaknesses in the 2021-2022 winter were in the areas of value and guest service, according to SKI Magazine. The magazine cited comments from readers about Park City Mountain that “were brutal, with many locals and longtime visitors writing that this was their worst experience at the resort ever.”

The mechanics and electricians submitted a petition in October to the NLRB to hold the election. At least 30% of the potential bargaining unit must sign a petition to bring the issue to a vote and a majority vote decides the outcome.

Walsh said if the election results are certified by the NLRB, the resort will comply with all applicable labor and employment laws and bargain in good faith with the representative selected by the lift maintenance mechanics and electricians.

“Either way, we are looking forward to a great season,” she said.

There are 17 electricians and mechanics on the Park City side of PCMR and 24 on the Canyons side, according to Jenkins, who has previously said the “incredibly low” numbers of workers leads to long work days and burnout.

Jenkins said employees’ morale already is improving.

Park City Mountain lift mechanics perform line work maintenance during the summer off-season. | Courtesy of the Park City Lift Maintenance instagram account

“It’s the first lift maintenance department in the country to unionize, which is something we’re incredibly proud of,” she said, adding that the effort had gotten support from workers at other resorts. “We’re excited to spread the love and see how this goes.”

There is no set deadline for negotiations to start but it could be soon, said Ryan Dineen, a local organizer with the CWA.

Ski patrollers at Breckenridge voted in late spring 2021 to unionize and were sitting down for their first negotiations in late June, he said.

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