PCMR ski patrol union’s contract expires as negotiations with Vail Resorts enter tenth month
Union leader calls length of talks ‘unprecedented’
With Parkites shifting their focus from skiing to summertime pursuits, the contract between Park City Mountain Resort and its ski patrollers quietly expired May 1, with the sides still unable to strike a multi-year deal nine months after sitting down at the bargaining table.
That’s an “unprecedented” length of time, according to the local union leader, one during which ski patrols in two popular destinations in Colorado and Montana have voted to begin their own unions.
PCMR spokesperson Jessica Miller said in a prepared statement that resort owner Vail Resorts continues to bargain in good faith with the Park City patrol union, and that there are negotiation sessions scheduled throughout this month.
“We are committed to reaching a new multi-year agreement,” she said.
Joe Naunchik, the president of the Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association, said the union’s goals remain the same since negotiations began in August.
“Guaranteed wage increases, sick time starting at day 1 — it’s still, our goal is still to make this an attractive option as a career,” Naunchik said.
The patrol’s previous two-year employment contract expired before the beginning of the ski season, but was extended until patrollers opted out in December. Patrollers then operated without a contract and held two “educational rallies” at which off-duty patrollers held signs saying “Not on strike just practicing.”
Without a contract in place, patrollers are free to strike and Vail Resorts is free to lock them out. The patrollers are still paid and continue to receive health insurance.
Patrollers briefly reentered a contract in March to secure year-end bonuses that Vail Resorts did not immediately offer its unionized employees. That extension lapsed May 1.
Patrollers at Big Sky Resort in Montana and Colorado’s Breckenridge Resort recently voted to unionize, while those at Keystone Resort, also in Colorado, voted against joining a union. The vote at Big Sky was a landslide, while both Keystone and Breckenridge patrollers split with a one-vote margin.
Both Keystone and Breckenridge are owned by Vail Resorts, which has opposed unionization in the past.
Naunchik sees the Big Sky and Breckenridge votes as signs of a possible rising tide of unionization that will help change the conception of ski patrolling from a seasonal, part-time pursuit to a career path.
“I’m thrilled,” he said of the recent votes. “This is a low-wage industry. The business model has to change, and I think ski patrollers are recognizing that. The execs running these companies are compensated extremely well, high six- and seven-figures, in some cases. Most ski patrollers and other workers are lucky to make $15 an hour. I think these other patrollers are seeing the business models need to change. Patrollers need to be recognized as professionals and compensated for the risks we take and the work we do every day.”
Miller declined to comment on the other unionization votes or whether a lockout or strike was possible.
Naunchik indicated a lockout would be an extreme move and not one the union expected.
“We’re not terribly concerned about being locked out,” he said, adding that it would be challenging for PCMR to find 180 replacement employees with the same skills that ski patrollers have.
He called talk of a strike “totally premature” and said that the union hopes a contract will be in place before the start of next ski season, making discussion of a work stoppage moot.
Naunchik said that the Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association is Utah’s only ski patrol union. Nationwide, the Communications Workers of America also represents patrollers at Stevens Pass Resort in Washington State, and Crested Butte Resort, Telluride Ski Resort and Steamboat Resort, all in Colorado. Big Sky and Breckenridge may soon join their ranks.
The Breckenridge vote has not been certified. The parties have until May 10 to object to the vote.
Naunchik sees common cause with the other patrol unions across the country and said the leaders communicate frequently. He said his goal is to be able to negotiate a core contract for all four unionized Vail Resorts-operated resorts: PCMR, Crested Butte, Stevens Pass and Breckenridge.
That would cut down on bargaining time, he said, and possibly save both sides money paid to negotiators.
“Safety in numbers,” he said.
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