During the last municipal election, staff housing and affordability quickly became the focal point of the whole affair. It was bigger than the Olympics, bigger than taxes, bigger than any two issues combined.
Attending the all-candidate meetings hosted by WORCA and the Chamber of Commerce, our would-be councillors and mayors were besieged with questions on how they would make housing and life and Whistler more affordable for staff.
Business owners and resort employees evidently feel that Whistler is behind in its commitment to provide housing for resort staff both to meet the demands of resort growth and to compensate for the steadily shrinking pool of homes used for staff housing as the redevelopment of local neighbourhoods begins in earnest.
They have a point. But there is another side to the issue as well.
In my almost four years living in Whistler, Ive been shocked and appalled by how some resort staff have been treated by their employers.
While housing and affordability no doubt contribute to the shortage of skilled employees in Whistler, the prevailing attitude that there is this unlimited pool of workers to draw from and that everyone is replaceable is equally at fault. People dont stick around where theyre not wanted, and where the opportunities to advance are limited, no matter how good the skiing is.
I dont intend to name names, because the business owners and managers know who they are. Some employers are exemplary by any standards, and they know who they are, too.
I know employees who work up to 20 hours of overtime in a single two-week pay period, but arent paid any overtime. When the taxes are deducted, these employees only make a fraction more than they would with a standard 80-hour pay period.
Not only is this illegal in Canada and British Columbia, it also robs employees of the extra money they could really use to pay high rents, buy toys, take vacations, and generally enjoy life in Whistler.
The employees I know that are in this no overtime situation wont complain to the government because they are worried their employers will then to limit their pay periods to 80 hours to avoid paying overtime, and they need the extra money. They are also worried that they could be branded as troublemakers and let go. The word union gets thrown around here and there, but not seriously.
For most employers and employees, the tourism industry is feast and famine busy one minute and dead the next. By letting employees share a little more in the feast, those employees will get through the famines easier and might actually still be in town when things pick up again.