PARK CITY, Utah. – Ski Patrol unions in Park City, Utah and Stevens Pass, Washington held what they called ‘educational rallies’ today to bring public attention to ongoing contract negotiations with Vail Resorts. Eight members of the Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association (PCPSPA), who work as patrollers for Park City Mountain, attended the morning rally on Lowell Ave.
The group carried signs reading ‘Not On Strike, Just Practicing,” and passed out stickers and information to guests and resort staff including PCMR COO Mike Goar, who stopped by to listen.
Max Magill, a six-season veteran ski patroller at PCMR who is also the union’s Unit Treasurer and a Negotiations Committee member, laid out what the union is looking for from Vail: Advanced training and education, adequate sick time policies, and increased pay for the risks of working as first responders during a pandemic.
“Our big push is we want to advance highly trained and educated ski patrol that can serve our public as best as possible,” Magill said. “We also are hoping to be extended sick time and a little bit of a bump in pay to compensate for this extra risk we are taking as first responders during a pandemic.”
Under their most recent contract (which expired Dec. 31), patrollers don’t qualify to receive sick pay until they have accrued 1,500 hours of work. For seasonal full-time patrollers, that typically takes three full winters to accrue.
Vail spokeswoman Jessica Miller said the company is committed to bargaining in good faith, but that “the union has asked for a retroactive wage increase in the middle of one of the most challenging financial situations the entire travel sector has ever faced and when no other employee across our entire company has received an inflationary increase. They have also asked for a wholesale change to how we provide benefits to seasonal employees – an approach that has been in place at the resort, and across our industry, for decades.”
Union members maintained that their requests will add value community-wide.
“If we had better benefits, better pay, we would definitely have a better retention rate which would be beneficial for our community and our guests and for the company to have more experienced patrollers on the mountain,” said Melinda Behum, a union member working her sixth season as an Advanced Line Patroller for Park City Mountain. “Having patrollers who come back season after season would be safer for our guests. It’s really important that we do have that professional experience on our patrol for avalanche mitigation work, for safety, for all the responsibilities we have at the resort.”
The beginning of the 2020-21 ski season started out with uncertainty for both guests and employees of Vail Resorts; guests didn’t know how Covid-19 would impact their experiences and Park City Mountain Ski Patrol and Vail Resorts did not extend their contract until Nov. 14, a week before opening day. That contract was an ‘evergreen agreement,’ which meant that it was a temporary extension that didn’t expire and would stay in place until either party gave notice to opt-out of the agreement or until a new contract was ratified. Park City Mountain’s ski patrol union gave notice to terminate the contract on Dec. 11, and it expired on Dec. 31 after a 20-day waiting period. Patrollers have been operating without a contract since Jan 1.
“We are confident that we offer our patrollers, and all of our employees, wages and benefits that are very competitive,” Miller aid in response to today’s rally. “That said, we will always remain open to listening to our employees’ concerns. But the issues raised by the union are very complex and do not lend themselves to quick resolution; another reason why the union’s unexpected termination of the contract seems very short-sighted and counter-productive.”
Union members expressed frustration with progress on negotiations.
“The reason we started the clock is we’re just not seeing timely responses from the company and they don’t seem willing to make concessions. So we wanted to apply a time pressure to the company to get an agreement done,” Magill said. “We’ve submitted a bunch of proposals. They’ve responded with counterproposals and most of what they’ve responded with are rejections. They really aren’t making many conciliations here especially when it comes to financial issues.”
Magill added that he hopes for an amicable resolution in everyone’s best interest.
“The union maintains that we’re all in this together. We really want the company to succeed. We don’t have a successful ski patrol and successful union if we don’t have guests at our ski resort and if the company isn’t making money,” Magill said.
The Ski Patrol union in Stevens Pass also held a rally today, after seeking unsuccessfully to solidify its first contract with Vail for the past 15 months.
According to Miller, discussions with the union will continue, with the next bargaining date scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 20.