Breckenridge, CO Ski Patrollers Vote 43-42 to Unionize

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vail resorts, patrollers, unionize
CEO of Vail Resorts Rob Katz, in front of some of his patrollers. Photo by Matt Nager.

Ski Patrollers at Vail Resorts owned Breckenridge Resort, CO, narrowly voted on Monday to unionize. According to the National Labor Relations Board website, 88 patrollers voted; 43 for, 42 against, with three void ballots. Breckenridge has 114 patrollers.

As a result of the vote, Breckenridge ski patrollers will join the Communications Workers of America labor union, reports Summit Daily.

The unionization effort came about because patrollers were unhappy with their relationship with Vail Resorts. The patrollers believe they should be treated as professional first responders and hope unionization will improve communication between patrollers and management.

“We just kind of felt that after several years of sort of stagnant wages and almost decreasing working conditions, it was time that we stood up for ourselves and (introduced) a new way of talking to the company.”

– Breckenridge ski patroller Beau Sibbing told Summit Daily

Vail Resorts was disappointed with the election result but will comply with all labor and employment laws and hope to have a good relationship with the elected representative.

“We are particularly concerned about the impact it will have on our patrol given that out of 114 patrollers, only 43 actually voted for union representation, with 42 voting against. While we continue to believe that engaging directly with our employees is the best way to foster an inclusive culture and build strong relationships, we respect our patrollers’ right to choose to have a union speak for them with regard to their wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.”

– Vail Resorts statement

vail, patrollers, paramedics, unionize,
Vail ski patrollers. Credit: Vail Resorts

First on the agenda for the newly unionized patrollers is to present a contract to Breckenridge management, with the main negotiations being wages and working hours.

“We’re working overtime every single week, so just trying to put that into a healthier package so that we cannot exhaust ourselves and also get a wage that’s livable in Summit County. The heart and soul of this movement that we have going is to create a win-win situation, to create a dialogue that is good not just for ski patrol but also for Vail (Resorts) — a more direct way of speaking.”

– Breckenridge ski patroller Beau Sibbing told Summit Daily

Summit County neighbors Keystone Resort voted 35-34 against unionizing in a similarly narrow vote on March 29th, 2021. This will be the second time in less than twenty years that patrollers at both Breckenridge and Keystone sought to unionize after Vail Resorts acquired the areas in 1996. The issue of unionizing was raised this year primarily due to compensation and lack of training that Vail Resorts provides. Many patrollers believe their work is not a sustainable profession despite the dedication required to meet the job’s often brutal demands. Colorado’s minimum wage is $12.23/hr, and the starting hourly wage for a patroller at Keystone is $13.25. Patrollers behind union efforts want their compensation to properly reflect the inherent risks, specialized training, and difficult work that ski patrolling involves.

Entrance Sign
At Stevens Pass, the Ski Patrol is fighting for better pay and benefits. With hopes of better retention for skilled patrollers.

In January, unionized patrollers at Stevens Pass and Park City staged informational pickets. Patrollers claimed the picketing was a result of failed negotiations with Vail Resorts. The Park City union reached out to negotiate an extension of their previous contract to include provisions for wage increases, disability insurance, more protective uniforms, and sick leave. However, Vail Resorts stalled negotiations citing financial constraints, and patrollers elected to let their contract expire. Concurrently, Patrollers at Stevens Pass––who have been unionized since 2019––have been waiting for nearly two years to finalize their contract. But with no contracts in place, Vail is under no obligation to resolve these problems within any given timeframe.

Moreover, Vail excluded unionized patrollers from bonuses given to their employees this year for working during a global pandemic. The company claimed that including unionized workers would violate federal labor laws, and they would have preferred to pay patrollers bonuses directly without the necessity of collective bargaining. However, many doubt Vail’s excuse, and there is speculation that it was merely an attempt to dissuade non-unionized patrollers from unionizing. The fact that Vail Resorts hired LRI Consulting in 2019 lends credence to this idea. The second sentence on the firm’s homepage states, “We literally wrote the book in countering union organizing campaigns (Total Victory), with more than forty years and 10,000 successful campaigns to our credit.”

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8 thoughts on “Breckenridge, CO Ski Patrollers Vote 43-42 to Unionize

  1. Maybe lifties should go union next.They have every skier or snowboarder life in their hands.Thousands a day depend on our quick decision making so they can ski.Even ski patrol has to ride the chairs up the mountain to do their job.We get paid way less the patrols? Think about that for a minute!

  2. And who do you call first in an emergency on the ski slope. ??????
    12.00 an hour is pitiful.
    A skier for life. I ski Breckinridge every year.

  3. Enough already with running that ridiculous photo of Rob Katz and Vail employees. Vail Resorts isn’t the military, and the organization isn’t going into battle against anyone (except, perhaps, against their customers or their unionizing employees). Please stop reusing this image—it’s as absurd as it is stomach churning.

  4. Blame municipal Fire Fighters. They make $300k/year and retire after 25 years of cleaning up traffic accidents. The City Fire Fighters are sucking all the money out of the system and being paid more during retirement than they were paid for actually working.

    1. You might want to check your information about firefighter. Also, I think you are commenting on the wrong article, this one has nothing to do with firefighters.

    2. Have you ever been at the scene of a fatal traffic accident that required a firefighter “clean up”? You couldn’t pay me any sum of money to do that job for 25 years.

  5. It seems crazy that Ski Patrollers aren’t paid better seeing how they are first responders and can be the difference between life and death or to put in in management speak a “horrible lawsuit” or “PR nightmare”. I hope the Breck patrol union is a great success and model for other ski areas. I wish them the best of luck!

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