As a part of a larger movement amongst ski patrol units to unionize patrollers at Keystone Resort, CO, voted on the issue this winter. 69 out of 88 eligible ballots were cast, and a tally issued on March 29th declared the union-side lost 35-34. Despite the disappointingly narrow margin, union-side patrollers at Keystone understand that unionizing is not favorable without a strong majority.
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.
This development exists in the context of an ongoing and widespread issue between patrollers and Vail Resorts.
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. 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.”
Patrollers at Breckenridge are next to cast their votes for unionization on May 3rd. 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.