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Ski Patrollers form a union

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
From: Sam News and click on bullet for Ski Patrol article

Ski Patrollers Form National Union
April 23, Denver (Snow Trade News) -- The Denver Post reports that six pro ski patrol unions have agreed to join together in a national labor organization.

Patrols at Aspen, Breckenridge, The Canyons, Crested Butte, Killington and Steamboat -- about 500 patrollers in all -- are already unionized. These patrols have formed the United Professional Ski Patrols of America, affiliating with the national District 2A Transportation, Technical, Warehouse, Industrial and Service Employees Union.

According to the Post, Phil Kelley, the lead negotiator for ski patrollers and vice president of the national District 2A union, says creating a national union is the first step in improving the working conditions of patrollers nationwide. During negotiations, Kelley is reported to have said, resort managers "keep pointing out to us how bad all the other ski patrollers have it at other resorts in the country and how good these patrollers have it. One of our conclusions then is that the profession of ski patrolling needs to be improved across the whole country."

[ April 27, 2002, 05:35 PM: Message edited by: dchan ]
post #2 of 19
I think it's great.
post #3 of 19
http://www.saminfo.com/forum.htm has a word from Mike Shirley of Bogus Basin ski area on how to get and keep skiers...interesting..

edit: its under "SAM forum" "Open letter to David Rowan" also older posts on ski schools.

Also, this may fit better into another thread, I just ran across it while reading the SAM site. Sorry.


[ April 26, 2002, 12:44 PM: Message edited by: Ott Gangl ]
post #4 of 19
Having worked in a number of unions, unionization is not the answer. Look to Herb Kelleher, of Southwest Airlines for a working model of employer/employee relations that works. Under Kelleher's model the employee have an economic stake in the company and have a real voice in management. How refreshing. Southwest is one of the few consistently profitable airlines in this country. It would work very well for the ski industry as a whole, but only the legal and accounting fields are more poorly run than the ski industry. OH MY GOD. Yes, I know that the industry is profitable, but only due to its oligopoly status. Have you noticed that almost all other recreation industries have grown dramatically over the last decade? The ski industry? No, it is flat or shrinking depending on how you define it. How pathetic and unnecessary.
post #5 of 19

I have to disagree with you. We, as instructors, do not have a peice of the pie. We don't share in the profits, much less make a livable wage. Oh, by the way, don't get sick. And what about retirement? These issues have to be solved before we can ever get into profit-sharing. Sure, a resort could offer profit-sharing. But how much would they be willing to offer? A negotiated contract would be far better than what most of us have now.
post #6 of 19
Do you really think that SouthWest would be such a "progressive" employer if the rest of the airline industry were not unionized? Don't ever forget the benefits that unions have brought for non-union members.
post #7 of 19
Miles, look at the ski area/instructors relationship. Instructors are the stepchildren. Even before unionizing, did the ski patrol only get paid when they were working, i.e. taking someone down the hill, setting poles over obstructions, shooting avalanches or vacating a chair?

No. Pro patrollers get paid for the time they are there, as do lift operators, food area workers, groomers, ski rental employees and yes, even greeters, if there is someone to greet or not.

So why, of all the ski area workers are ski instructors the only ones who are required to be there, but only get paid when they get a class?

It's deja vu of another thread, but unionization or at least some organization with power to call a strike is the answer to that.

It has been said that there are going to be would-be isntructors lined up to take their place.

Just imagine Vail or any other destination resort. Should there be a strike, placards would inform that scab instructors don't have the qualification of the regular staff, many vacationers would heed that, members of other unions would not want to cross picket lines and would request their money back from the resort, etc.

I notice that the partoller did not have their own union negotiate but a negotiator from the Transportation, Technical, Warehouse, Industrial and Service Employees Union. That negotiator has nothing to lose, he can't be retaliated against by the ski area since he doesn't work for them.

Anyway, ski instructors should demand equality of employment with the kid that hands out the skis to renters.

post #8 of 19
Wow, Ott, nicely said.

Australia is a heavily unionised country, although the conservative gov't is trying to weaken the unions. When people have a way of organising themselves, things happen.
Interesting list of resorts, too:
Aspen, Breckenridge, The Canyons, Crested Butte, Killington and Steamboat

Three of those are ASC, and they are the larger ASC resorts to boot. Breck's no surprise, Patrol there has been brawling with the resort all season over their pay cuts and loss of benefits.

I find comparisons between patrollers and instructors interesting; a buddy here at Keystone ski school (he's ski ecole qualified in france) was saying that we foreigners coming over is what keeps the pay and working conditions low for US instructors. So I asked him about patrollers then...they aren't much better off, and the numbers of foreigners is miniscule. That shut him up!
post #9 of 19
Lot of folks, me included, consider a union a neccesary evil, only to be brought up when all else fails.

If the company treats the workers fairly they will not vote to unionize because they don't have to. As an example, the auto workers union had no sucess in organizing the Honda plant in Ohio, and they tried hard. Why? Because the workers were treated fairly, often getting benefits without asking for them.

In about a dozen large resorts like Vail and Aspen the SSDs fight hard for their instructors (not to say smaller resort SSDs don't) and get them some benefits like standby pay, but there is just so much they can do when corporate biggies say tighten the belt, they have to.

post #10 of 19
Originally posted by milesb:
Do you really think that SouthWest would be such a "progressive" employer if the rest of the airline industry were not unionized? Don't ever forget the benefits that unions have brought for non-union members.
Well said, milesb. In Europe as well as in the US, what rights ordinary folk have in the workplace they have because somebody fought for them.

No employer anywhere hands out the goodies as a token of largesse - they do so for expediency and the more intelligent ones have learnt that carrots work a lot better than sticks.

But until every employer has figured that one out and is running with it, there will be a need for unions.
post #11 of 19
Originally posted by Ott Gangl:
Lot of folks, me included, consider a union a neccesary evil, only to be brought up when all else fails.
Me too.

Sometimes the THREAT of a union is a motivator. However, once the workers have notified the NLRB that they are officially involved in a union organizing effort, the management's hands are legally tied in terms of negotiation, dialogue, and making any changes. These laws are built so that management can't undercut the union effort. I believe these laws were from the older days, when managements attempts to intimidate were pretty powerful, and the workers had to be protected from that.

Having been through this before, I think the best way is for the organizing group to go to management first. This gives management the chance to rectify.

If the instructors are afraid of losing their jobs, then they can select pros to represent them. These pros would serve as "canaries" to management--from the canaries in the coal mine that warned of danger. These pros would be the ones who don't necessarily have a beef--the ones that are thriving, enjoying the environment, and would have something to lose if the union came in. They would be listened to by management (if management were ready to do that), because they are considered reasonable and productive.

However, the fear of losing the job may be pretty bogus, because there is lots of protection for job security, and companies get sued for unfair terminations all the time. (That's why we have a body of pros--pro council--that reviews most terminations. When you get fired here, you get fired by your peers--or reinstated.)

Nevertheless, I think our process that we went through in Aspen years ago would have been much easier--with the same results--had the pros not gone as far as to file with the NLRB for an organizing period. We wouldn't have had the tough times and mistrust we had at the beginning, and we would have gotten down to the pro driven reorganization much quicker. Again, a real threat--without the stirring by the unions (looking for new markets) would have sufficed.

(I know there are many pros in Aspen that would disagree with me on this.)

[ April 29, 2002, 05:38 AM: Message edited by: weems ]
post #12 of 19
My experience with workplace reform is that while one may not lose the job, per se, one is in the doghouse. It's a Catch-22. Management says they want input, but when you give input you are branded as a trouble-maker. Can you say "ostracism?"

There's a vast distance between espoused values and values that are practiced in the workplace.
post #13 of 19
Weems, the "pro council" approach seems to have worked well in Aspen. Most SAM would be aghast that finally the inmates are running the asylum, but few realize the depth of knowledge, external professionalism and intellect on your average SS line. I even have a SB examiner working for me who is a Space Shuttle engineer for Boeing. "A snowboarding-rocket scientist"...there's an oxymoron!
Few other departments would be capable of this kind of self-regulation. Was this post HH (not Harold...SCSA), but the one in BH now?
post #14 of 19

You said, “Do you really think that Southwest would be such a "progressive" employer if the rest of the airline industry were not unionized? Don't ever forget the benefits that unions have brought for non-union members”

Yes, Southwest did not provide real ownership opportunity to its employees because it is a “progressive employer” it did so because it provided a better way to manage and motivate employees. As to the “rest of the airlines industry were not unionized?” part of the question let me turn it around and ask you a question. Do you think Henry Ford would have perfected the assembly line without everything surrounding that advance? Uh, these questions are unanswerable. Essentially the argument you make is that Herb Kelleher was faced with unionization so he gave up a significant portion of ownership to remove the threat of unionization. Huh? The argument you make is preposterous even on its face. It is of the “cut off the nose to spite the face” variety and I have never found a rational person who would act on such a nonsensical idea.

The cynicism in your answer is understandable but it makes an unwarranted assumption that employers who are motivated by profit cannot also create a system, which benefits the employees. Scotski takes that to an extreme stating “No employer anywhere hands out the goodies as a token of largesse - they do so for expediency and the more intelligent ones have learnt that carrots work a lot better than sticks. “ scotski, what Southwest has done and what I think ski areas should do is far more than a carrot. It is the real deal; decision-making and authority transferred to the employee, at least in significant part.

It is clear that Southwest has created a system that works, it is far more profitable than other airlines, it limits employer/employee conflict, and it results in equitable pay and benefits to employees and management. The Southwest system works because the employees have a real ownership of the company. They have significant say in the direction of the company, employee salaries, management makeup management salaries and all other business decisions. Yes, employees receive profits but this system is not profit sharing and should not be confused as such. Profit sharing is nothing but a thin bone thrown to employees by shortsighted managers to keep employees from gaining decision-making power

I agree with Ott, the union may be a last resort evil, however it is not the “answer”. To the contrary it will ultimately cause as many problems as it solves. For example: the union will always fight for tactical wins (more pay, more benefits, more vacation…) it will never fight for strategic benefits (employee ownership or other benefits which would result in the elimination of the need for a union). Why? The union employees themselves have a conflict of interest with their members. They will never negotiate themselves out of a job; it is not in their self-interest.

The union will address the problem with an inherently limited bag of tricks due to their conflict of interest. Lacking flexibility, the cure is inappropriate to the disease. The result is constant negotiations attempting to fix the problem with yet more ill fitting bandages.

Rick H, I did not and do not think that ski instructors “receive a piece of the pie”, at least not generally. I think this is a potential solution to many of the problem with ski areas currently. The real problem is poor management. Adding employees into the management decision-making process would provide a shot in the arm for some ski areas. Others seem so badly managed that nothing will help.
post #15 of 19
>>>Adding employees into the management decision-making process would provide a shot in the arm for some ski areas<<<

Maddog, that would be groomers, lifties and food preparation employees, but would leave out instructors.

Ski instructors are contract workers. Their contract, mostly unwritten, says they must show up for certain ammount of time on certain days and be ready to accept a class if one is available and then they will get paid for the hours actually worked teaching a class.

They are essentially day workers who work on a seasonal contract which does not have to be renewed the folowing season. With very few exceptions, there are no benefits like workmens comp or medical, nor any job security.

So in order to share in an emplyees-participating company, the instructors would first have to be emplyees.

post #16 of 19
Originally posted by Robin:
Was this post HH (not Harold...SCSA), but the one in BH now?
It began during the time HH was there. It has changed considerably since then. For awhile, it really was the inmates running the asylum (that's why I quite management at the time--it was better to be an inmate!) Now it's more of a collaboration that we (in management) are very careful to maintain and respect. (For example, when we have a hard disciplinary issue or a termination that may go to pro council, we make sure a team leader is part of the process.)
post #17 of 19
weems, how can your system be instituted in all/other areas? Is it strictly a management decision to allow it?

post #18 of 19
I really agree with you Maddog. The conflict of interest is huge. The union leaders have to protect their business first, and they use the rhetoric of protecting the workers. (I don't think this was always so.)

Ott, you've got the great question.

Basically the answer in our case was yes. I think we were making that decision before the union org effort. That just made it more urgent and more dramatic. The management either decides to bring the pros in on the deal, or we face unhappy pros every day. Unhappy pros just don't perform as well. We know that enfranchised ski pros are going to do a better job.

Our school is very important to the success of the area--both for its own revenue and for its drawing people to Aspen and keeping them here. We like our pros and think they do a great job. The vindicate our hiring efforts. We also know that pros who don't like the company becoming totally self serving and would just as soon sabotage. So we try to be likeable. (up to a point--obviously)

Now we didn't get everything they wanted, or even everything they deserved. But they're smart and know this is a business and you have to make some compromises.

The main issue for the pros just seemed to be "do we have a voice here". (The pay was already a pretty high standard.) What an easy answer that was! It just took a lot of time to figure out how to let that voice be heard appropriately. (Please, understand we still need to improve. But the principle is fairly obvious.)

Yeah, each management has to decide whether it feels that it's employees are important, worthy, capable, and intelligent. If they're not, then whose fault is that!!?? And then make the decision to go ahead. Offer them the best pay you can afford, and give them access to the best training you can afford.

The hard part though is that I can't prove that this makes any more money, or even stays even. If this were really powerful, we should be way ahead. But there are other issues--such as our location, air travel, bed base, etc.--that muddy the picture. I believe that we would have slipped for more severely had it not been for the excellence of these pros.
post #19 of 19
Originally posted by Ott Gangl:
weems, how can your system be instituted in all/other areas? Is it strictly a management decision to allow it?

One more answer is that I would be delighted to talk to SSD's at other areas, BUT as I said, I can't give you increased revenue numbers to prove that it works. (yet) One thing for sure, it hasn't cost us any more to do it this way!
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