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For the first time in the history of the Whistler Valley, union organizers are making a concerted effort to unionize employees at Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains at the same time. This week, thousands of pamphlets hit the mail boxes of Whistler addressed "To All Whistler and Blackcomb Ski Hill Employees." And with one mail delivery the valley is once again abuzz with the talk of unionization, as mountain managers scramble to issue statements, employees chat over coffee and United Steelworkers of America union organizers hunker down in their office on Blackcomb Way, conducting a secretive campaign to organize local mountain employees. It is that secrecy which has many union detractors digging in for a protracted battle and people who think a union might be a good idea digging for some honest dialogue and some straight talk. The early stages of the war for Whistler's wages is short on facts and long on rhetoric. "Every campaign is different and the intricacies of the campaign are things that remain confidential," says Susan Carrigan, the Western Canada organizing co-ordinator for the Steelworkers. Carrigan, who is based in Burnaby, says the United Steelworkers were asked to come into the Whistler Valley, so they did. "We have been asked by a number of people to look at the hill operations," she says. "The workers of Whistler will decide the issues in terms of things they would like changed." The Steelworkers' pamphlet contains information on the union, which Carrigan says represents employees at Red Mountain and Kimberley Resort, as well as 150,000 other members in Canada. It also has a card on the back which, if filled out and signed, is a tacit implication that the signatory wants to be a union member. If 55 per cent of employees at either Whistler or Blackcomb sign the card, the union is automatically certified and no vote is necessary. Under the B.C. Labour Code, employers are not allowed to provide information on union activities or approach their employees directly. Blackcomb management issued a short "No comment," followed by, "It's an issue between Blackcomb and our staff." David Perry, director of marketing at Whistler Mountain says they are carrying on business as usual while the union drive goes on. "We're aware that they (the Steelworkers Union) are here," Perry says. "The management has always been there to answer any questions Whistler Mountain employees may have about union activity within the confines of the provincial labour code." Carrigan would not say whether a mass mail-out with union cards on the back is the normal way of conducting a campaign, but some mountain employees and long-time locals feel the tactic is underhanded and ambiguous. Alison Vollmer, a five year employee at Blackcomb, says before anyone signs the card and goes looking for more from the employer, they should weigh what they already have. "I think the mountains here, even though they are big corporations, go out of their way to create a small-company atmosphere for their employees," Vollmer says. "Who is thinking about the discounted food we get now, or free skiing. Who can choose to move to the number one ski resort in North America and get free skiing through their job? These are the kind of things that will be the first to go if a union comes in and changes the relationship between us and management." Over at Whistler Mountain, three-year employee Carole Mains has many of the same worries. Mains says all the years of benefits which have been gained by local employees will be discarded as soon as a union gets involved in the picture. Mains says she is also surprised at the surreptitious tone of the Steelworkers' pamphlet. "When they refer to being invited here by the employees of Whistler and Blackcomb, they're intimating that they are speaking for all of these employees," Mains says. "They're certainly not speaking for me and I think that's sneaky. I have a concern... if these people end up representing me are they going to be sneaky with me?" That tone of the flyer has Mark Armour of the Whistler Mountain Ski School a bit suspicious about the Steelworkers entire campaign. "I was surprised about the lack of information on that piece of paper," Armour says. "I would think there would be some proposals and plans rather than just, ‘sign this and we'll do great things for you.’" Armour says the tone of the union debate is going to be determined by those pushing the idea, and if union organizers are intent on "slinking around" then a forum for open discussion and honest debate will never be achieved. Former Whistler mayor Drew Meredith has lived in the valley for 24 years and has watched union organizers come and go every five years or so. He says starting off a union campaign with a pamphlet aimed at scaring local mountain employees into signing union cards is a bit dubious. "This is not dissimilar from a lot of the propaganda created during the Second World War. It's pretty tacky," Meredith says. "The employer has no ability to come back with any kind of counter claim or refute the ideas put forth by the union." Meredith says even if local employees do ratify a union this winter, a first contract will probably not be signed until late into next winter, as collective agreements often take 6-8 months to put together, leaving many of those that voted unable to reap the benefits after they move out of the valley or on to other jobs. The current Whistler membership drive may just be a ploy to fatten union coffers in a growing ski resort, says Meredith. A check of union dues paid by United Steelworkers of America members in other resorts in B.C. reveals they usually pay two hours of wages a month to the union plus $3-$4. Other locals with the union have also had to pay an initiation fee of up to $100. Blackcomb employs roughly 1,200 employees in the winter season and Whistler's winter employee total hovers around 900. With those figures the monthly union contributions from Whistler and Blackcomb would be around $33,600. With approximately 2,100 workers contributing union dues over the course of the six month winter season the Steelworkers would collect $201,600, not including initiation fees. Also, union dues of employees who have been laid off are payable retroactively after they have been rehired. Meredith says the success of the resort makes it very tempting to unions looking to find more union dues. "This looks to me like a group that is looking to get more members and, in turn, more money from their members and they have waited for Whistler to fatten up enough so they can come in and try and live off the fat," Meredith says.

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