Beaver Creek instructors are working to unionize | AspenTimes.com

Beaver Creek instructors are working to unionize

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily

A group of Beaver Creek ski instructors are trying to organize a union and have signed up with the AFL-CIO to help them do it.

Beaver Creek Instructors United is getting a hand from the AFL-CIO's Communications Workers of America, based in Denver.

"This business is inherently dangerous, and they're shooting their wounded," said Al Kogler, the Communications Workers of America's union organizer in this region of the country. "They put their lives on hold for months to provide a great and safe guest experience."

Vail Resorts said it treats its employees fairly and with respect.

"We place the highest value on the employee experience at Beaver Creek and work diligently to ensure that we have a competitive package of benefits and wages and that we treat all of our employees fairly and with respect," said Fred Rumford, senior director of skier services for Beaver Creek Resort. "We value and incorporate all of the feedback that we receive from our employees as evident by the many initiatives we've undertaken on wages, benefits and other employment perks in recent years."

Strike not likely

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Strikes are not part of their union's model, Kogler said, and cannot happen until a contract expires. Contracts run two or three years.

On their website, Beaver Creek Instructors United have said they won't strike because there are other ways to accomplish things.

For now it's just Beaver Creek ski instructors. Vail ski instructors have a Facebook page, Fair Wages for Ski Instructors.

Vail Resorts Utah union shop

Vail Resorts picked up a union shop when it acquired Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah.

In total, the Communications Workers of America represents four ski patrollers in four resorts — Steamboat Springs, Crested Butte, Canyons (Utah) and Telluride. A fifth, Taos (New Mexico), will likely join after a November vote, Kogler said.

Beaver Creek could be the nation's first ski instructors' union, Kogler said.

The AFL-CIO's goal is to bring some equity and dignity to this, he said.

"These are not just surfer dudes who disappear at the end of every ski season," Kogler said. "Some of these instructors have been at this for 40 years."

Some instructors do it part-time — retirees and trust funders — but others need it to make a living, Kogler said.

"For most people, this is a job they love, but it's also a job they need," Kogler said.

It also can be dangerous.

A local instructor was injured in a collision when someone outside her class hit her, Kogler said. The ski company offered her one year's salary and told her she'd never work for any of their businesses, anywhere, ever again, he said.

Pay raises already

In an email sent Monday to Beaver Creek ski instructors, Vail Resorts trumpeted a 55-cent pay raise to $10.50 an hour for non-certified instructors. Level 3 certified instructors will get a $4.05 pay increase, to $18 an hour.

Union dues are 1.29 percent of your base wage, about $6.50 a week for Beaver Creek ski instructors, Kogler said.

In that Monday email, Rumford said customers can be confused about tipping instructors following a lesson, and that the ski company will try to clarify ("and we hope, increase") instructors' gratuities.

"As prices go up, tips go down. People say, 'If I have to pay this much, half of it must go to the instructor,'" Kogler said. "It doesn't. They get paid their hourly wage."

Clients are often assigned an instructor who is paid less. A less expensive instructor pushes more of that money to Vail Resorts' profits, Kogler pointed out.

To be assigned a class, instructors must wait.

"They stand and smile and hope someone picks them, the same way you'd hope someone picks you for the dodgeball team," Kogler said.

Getting unionized

To get to a union vote, organizers must get signatures from 30 percent of Beaver Creek's ski instructors saying they want a union, and that they want AFL-CIO's local Communications Workers of America union to run it.

The union likes to have 50 percent of the workers signed on before asking the National Labor Relations Board for a vote, Kogler said.

The National Labor Relations Board then asks Vail Resorts for an employee list, and the federal agency compares names, like election officials would for any campaign.

The labor relations board lets everyone know who gets to vote, where and when.

An election could be called in as little as four weeks after the labor relations board ratifies the signatures.

Generally, companies will try to hammer the workers and buy more time, Kogler said.

"It's about power and who exercises it," Kogler said. "They want to nip it in the bud and make sure a vote never happens."

Retribution is illegal

Under federal law, a company cannot take any negative action against an employee for supporting or not supporting a union.

If workers in your shop unionize, you don't necessarily have to join.

If a majority of Beaver Creek ski instructors vote to make the Communications Workers of America their union, the union begins negotiating on behalf of all the instructors, whether they voted for the union or not.

The federal government says unions must represent workers whether they're members or not.

To counter that, unions came up with a fee you pay instead of union dues.

Colorado is the only state that requires non-union workers to pay that fee in a union shop.

"We never collect any dues until the workers have a ratified contract, no matter how long it takes," Kogler said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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