Tom Clyde: Look out for the union label |

Tom Clyde: Look out for the union label

Tom Clyde

As I’m writing this on Thursday, news has come that the ski patrol union at Park City Mountain Resort and Vail Resorts have reached a tentative agreement on pay. The agreement now goes out to the union members for a vote. While it’s never over until it’s over, it appears that we dodged a bullet on that one. It’s rare good news in what has been a weird ski season locally.

Park Record columnist Tom Clyde.

Nobody likes a strike. It’s a scorched-earth, last-ditch approach, and no matter how it ends up, the relationship between the workers and the managers is pretty well wrecked. Once conditions are pushed to the point that a strike is even under serious consideration, the damage is done. A strike affects a lot of innocent bystanders. In this case vacations would have been ruined. A strike likely would have shut the mountain down, so non-union workers would have lost their wages, too. All the peripheral business would take a hit without having any means of resolving the dispute. Snowbasin would have had a big surprise if 40,000 Epic Pass holders showed up in the parking lot, madder than hell, because Park City was closed.

You can get by with temporary workers in a lot of positions, but a ski area can’t safely operate without a competent ski patrol. Even if there aren’t avalanche issues with the current dry weather, you need trained emergency medical people on the hill. I’ve never been roped off a ski lift in a lifetime of skiing. I’m certain that I don’t want to do it with a pastry chef holding the other end of the rope, learning how to do it from a YouTube video on his phone.

The terms of the tentative deal haven’t become public as of this writing. The negotiations appear to have been hard-nosed, and dragged out over an unreasonably long time. In that time, the starting wage of $13.25 per hour has only become more embarrassing. Other employees are starting at $15, and now will get a $2/hour retention bonus if they are still standing at the end of the season. The resort was never really fully staffed this season, and now large numbers are out sick as COVID rages into a third year. We’re in the top five counties nationally for COVID infection. Three of them are ski towns. People are working incredibly long hours in every job on the mountain. Be nice to a liftie; they’re doing their best, and can’t remember the last time they had a day off.

The patrol union wanted a starting wage of $17/hour, with increases for experience. They deserve it. I wouldn’t do half of what they do for twice the money, and am not competent to do any of it. They have emergency medical response training and certifications that are hard to get. They learn the dark art of avalanche control by apprenticing on the job with more experienced peers. They take a whole lot of responsibility keeping the mountain a safe place for the rest of us to play. There’s a reason they call it the Professional Ski Patrol Association. They aren’t going to be replaced by a truckload of guys from in front of Home Depot.

Seventeen bucks doesn’t go very far in this town. We all know people who spend more than that in their sleep. Just to put it in some perspective, Vail Resorts sold 2.1 million Epic passes of various kinds. If they increased the cost of the Epic Pass by the price of a cup of coffee, it would more than cover what the patrol is asking for — not just here, but at all of the Vail Resorts-owned properties. For the price of lunch at Miners Camp, added to 2.1 million Epic passes, they would take in over $50 million. That’s enough to give all the employees a raise, and would not make any measurable difference in the sales.

It’s hard to believe that we were hours away from shutting it all down over the price of a cup of coffee. Well, 2.1 million cups of coffee, but still. As I write this, the GoFundMe page for a strike fund has raised over $101,000 from more than 1,800 individual donors. They have suspended additional donations, assuming a deal will be approved. In last November’s Live PC Give PC community fundraising event, Mountain Trails Foundation was the most popular nonprofit. It raised $140,488 from 1,081 donors. The Park City Education Foundation raised $129,273 from 772 donors. So the strike fund turns out to be among our favorite organizations. Had it been on the list back in November, it would have been in the top three, receiving broad community support in both dollars given and the number of individual donations. It would be ahead of Nuzzles & Co. By that metric, it seems we like our ski patrollers better than our dogs, and Parkites worship our dogs.

Nobody likes a strike, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. I hope they got what they wanted, which seems less than they really deserve, and take some comfort knowing the community was with them even if it got ugly.

Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.

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