Tom Clyde: Look for the union label

As I write this Thursday, news has come through that the ski patrol union at Park City Mountain Resort and Vail Resorts has reached a tentative settlement on pay. The agreement now goes to union members for a vote. While it’s never over ’til it’s over, it seems we dodged a bullet. It’s rarely good news in a strange local ski season.

Park Record columnist Tom Clyde.

Nobody likes a strike. It’s a scorched earth and last resort method, and no matter how it ends, the relationship between the workers and the managers is pretty much destroyed. Once conditions are pushed to the point where a strike is even seriously considered, the damage is done. A strike affects many innocent bystanders. In this case the holiday would have been ruined. A strike would likely have shut down the mountain, so non-union workers would have lost their wages as well. All peripheral businesses would be affected without having any means to resolve the dispute. Snowbasin would have been in for a big surprise if 40,000 Epic Pass holders showed up in the parking lot, insanely mad because Park City was closed.

In many positions you can get by with temporary workers, but a ski area cannot function safely without competent piste supervisors. Even if there are no avalanche problems with the current drought, trained paramedics are needed on the hill. I’ve never abseiled off a ski lift in my entire skiing life. I’m sure I wouldn’t want to do it with a pastry chef holding the other end of the rope and learning how to do it from a YouTube video on his phone.

The terms of the preliminary deal have not been released at this time. Negotiations appear to have been stubborn and dragged on for an unreasonably long time. In that time, the starting wage of $13.25 an hour has only gotten more embarrassing. Other staff start at $15 and now receive a $2 per hour retention bonus if they are still standing at the end of the season. The resort has never really been fully staffed this season and now many are ill as COVID rages into a third year. We are ranked in the top five counties nationally for COVID infections. Three of them are ski resorts. People work incredibly long hours in every job on the mountain. Be nice to a liftie; They do 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 earn it. I wouldn’t do half of what they do for double the money and I’m in no condition to do any of it. They have emergency medical training and certifications that are hard to come by. You’ll learn the dark art of avalanche combat by apprenticeship-on-the-job with more experienced colleagues. They take a huge responsibility for keeping the mountain a safe place for the rest of us. There’s a reason they call it the Professional Ski Patrol Association. You won’t be replaced by a truckload of guys in front of Home Depot.

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

It’s hard to believe we were hours away from turning everything off over the price of a cup of coffee. Well, 2.1 million cups of coffee, but still. As of this writing, the GoFundMe page has raised over $101,000 from more than 1,800 individual donors for a strike fund. They have suspended further donations on the assumption that a deal will be approved. At the Live PC Give PC Community fundraising event last November, the Mountain Trails Foundation was the favorite nonprofit. It raised $140,488 from 1,081 donors. The Park City Education Foundation raised $129,273 from 772 donors. So the strike fund is one of our favorite organizations. Had it been on the list back in November, it would have been in the top three and would have received broad community support, both in terms of dollars given and the number of individual donations. It would be before Nuzzles & Co. By that metric, we seem to like our ski patrols better than our dogs, and Parkites adore 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 what they really deserve, and I take comfort in knowing that even when things got ugly, the community was with them.

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.

Comments are closed.