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Steelworkers retreat After a five week battle, The United Steelworkers of America are pulling out of town and giving up their attempt to unionize employees at Whistler and Blackcomb as the ski season winds down. At a press conference Tuesday, Steelworker organizers called off the union drive, saying they did not have enough cards signed to apply to the Labour Relations Board for certification and the short time left this season made them realize the certification move may not be possible — this year. The Steelworkers drive began with a leaflet inserted in every mailbox in Whistler a month and a half ago and ended Wednesday as Whistlerites pulled the last Steelworker leaflet from their mail boxes — for now. Organizer Susan Carrigan sat in the comfortable living room of the Alta Lake home they had rented for the last part of the campaign, over her shoulder was Alta Lake — frozen and solid. And just as the lake will thaw this spring and freeze again in the fall, the Steelworkers vow they will return. "We are very confident the support level we have gained here will get us a return invitation from employees," Carrigan says. "We are calling off this campaign. We'll be back." For five weeks, a battle for the hearts and minds of ski hill employees in Whistler has tempered the community. Vehement letters to the editor filled local newspapers, union foes organized, local politicians scrambled to interpret bylaws to block union activity and the Steelworkers combed the valley talking to anyone who would listen. In the meantime, only one thing remained certain — all's fair in union organizing and war — and this was war. Carrigan and fellow Steelworker organizer Mike Piche say their relationship with employees was the same as during any other union drive, but the wall of opposition erected by the community of Whistler was the most formidable they have ever tried to scale. Carrigan says the union drive served a very important purpose in Whistler, as employees, employers and the community in general learned a great deal about Whistler's labour situation. At Blackcomb, the recently introduced "ski visit" bonus is a direct benefit gained from the union campaign, she says. The ski visit bonus is designed to pay all Blackcomb employees, from managers to front-line staff, the same bonus if skier visit projections are surpassed. John Birrell, general manager and vice president at Blackcomb, says plans were in the works to initiate the ski visit bonus well before the union drive began. Birrell says he is "relieved" the union drive is over this year, but the threat of a return may hamper day-to-day operations as managers try to deal with employees and constantly look over their shoulders for union organizers. "When the union drive is on it effects managers, employees, everyone," Birrell says. "To be frank you just have to watch your P's and Q's." Piche says the Steelworkers feel they have a very good chance of having the bonus deemed an unfair labour practice because it was introduced after the union drive commenced. If the Steelworkers were to challenge the bonus it could be taken away by a LRB ruling. "We're not going to gain very many friends if we start getting things taken away," Piche says, Although union organizers were having a hard time finding inexpensive accommodation in Whistler, Piche says the decision to call off the drive was not made on financial grounds. "When it comes to workers the cost is not a factor, were like labour philanthropists," Piche says. "All through the campaign we said it's the workers who decide when the campaign ends." Kevin Larkin a Whistler Mountain liftee who works the T-bars, says union organizers have a tough time selling their offers of increased wages and long-term security to seasonal workers. Larkin, who hails from Ottawa, has been in Whistler for one season. He says he plans on staying for "another year or so" before moving on. "If I was planning on this job being my career the union might be an option, but since I'm only going to be working on the mountain for five or six months, it's not for me," Larkin says. "But I can see why their trying." The Steelworkers are going to remain in Whistler, working on a number of confidential projects and a continuing drive to organize workers at the Crystal Lodge. They also will be a keeping a watchful eye on the Whistler and Blackcomb employees who assisted them in their campaign, making sure they are not penalized for their union support. Piche says organizers are not slinking away, battered and bruised, they are pulling out to regroup, to return again. Pulling out of a campaign is something they are used to, only 45 per cent of campaigns initiated by the Steelworkers result in a union certification. "We're not leaving town, we're just ending this campaign," Piche says. "We're still not going to buy a business licence."

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