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Park City patrollers' union nearing new contract with Vail Resorts

Also, Whistler Workers' Alliance continuing organizing efforts this ski season

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The Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association is hopeful that a new contract with Vail Resorts and Park City Mountain can be finalized before the start of the ski season.

Part of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7781, the patrollers' association has been meeting with representatives of Vail Resorts since September to negotiate a new contract. The previous agreement, covering approximately 200 staff at the Utah resort, expired on Nov. 14.

"We're trying to work with the company on a contract that benefits both parties. One that places an emphasis on retaining patrollers and that recognizes us as skilled professionals working at one of the busiest resorts in the country," said Julia Edwards, the union's business manager, in a release.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Vail Resorts said the two sides are "having productive conversations and believe both parties are working in good faith towards a new collective bargaining agreement."

CWA spokesperson Al Kroger said in a follow-up phone call that both parties "really aren't that far apart on a lot of things," adding, "This is typical when we get down to the end of the negotiations."

Kroger added that the union is looking for a new deal that acknowledges the professional nature of patrollers' work and stems the high turnover often seen in the job.

"We see a constant push from employers to not want to recognize it as a first-responder type of profession," he said. "I think most people would agree that if something happens to you while you're out enjoying the beautiful mountains, you'd much rather have a seasoned, tenured person coming to aid you then someone who's been doing this six months. That's part of our push through the association."

Earlier this year, a group of Whistler Blackcomb (WB) ski instructors, dubbed the Whistler Workers' Alliance, announced they had been meeting with representatives from the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union 1518 in the hopes of eventually organizing WB's 4,000-plus workforce, before turning its sights on local workers in other industries. The group must obtain signatures from at least 45 per cent of a proposed bargaining unit in order to apply for union recognition from B.C.'s Labour Relations Board.

"When we started this project with workers in Whistler, we realized it was going to be a long campaign," said UFCW organizer Keith Murdoch. "Naturally, we're gearing up to go at it again over this coming ski season."

The number of seasonal workers at WB—roughly 3,700 workers were employed as first-time or returning seasonal staff last winter—presents a major hurdle to the alliance's efforts, a challenge that Kroger ran into when trying to organize ski instructors at Beaver Creek in 2016.

"We've tried in the past to separate the full-time from the part-time instructors because they really have different interests, but under American labour law, I wasn't able to prevail on that," he said.

Murdoch said the workers' alliance will continue its broad approach, and that organizing efforts won't be resigned to the ski resort.

"My union's intention, as it originally was, was never to just limit ourselves to employees of Whistler Blackcomb. There are lots of issues with all workers within Whistler and we're here to try to assist workers to improve their working conditions," he said. "The campaign will continue to go on and we're not intending to go anywhere."

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