10 questions with Lee Mulcahy
Lee Mulcahy used to be a ski pro with Aspen Skiing Co., a job he truly loved.
But his outspoken attitude – he has led the charge about novice instructor pay – coupled with a high-season leafleting of guests at the Little Nell Hotel, contributed to his dismissal from Skico.
Mulcahy has also been banned from both Skico’s mountains and their lodging properties. This week, Mulcahy spoke with Snowmass Sun Editor Madeleine Osberger about labor issues, what motivated him to wage this battle and what’s next.
Snowmass Sun: Labor issues seem to be exploding all over the globe, most recently in Wisconsin. Why do you think the issue is coming to a head right here, right now?
Lee Mulcahy: Greed is the root. Why now? Economic hardship. There is a gap between the haves and the have-nots; and it’s getting wider. Richard Stearns, President of World Vision U.S., points out that 1,125 billionaires hold more wealth than over 50 percent of the world’s population [of about 3.4 billion people].
It is as simple as what we had to learn in kindergarten: We all have to share. Everyone, even the Crowns. Now is a time to narrow that chasm. I love what Jeannie Perry of Carbondale said: “Sooner or later, the ticking time bomb that is this fat cat thievery they call ‘economic downturn’ will blow. Then this nepotism, and the equivalent of nepotism with friends, will cease and desist. At least for a little while until unchecked greed and complacency meet up once again for a romantic weekend getaway.”
SS: Do you believe this is the “little guy” ‘s time or are you fighting a battle that may not ever be won, especially if you can’t get the other ski pros to back you?
LM: In general, something has to give. Robert F Kennedy Jr. in January stated: “The erosion of American democracy has forced people who care about our country, and who care about civic health, into this box of civil disobedience and local action. Last year, the Supreme Court overruled a hundred years of ironclad American precedent with the Citizens United case, and got rid of a law that was passed by Teddy Roosevelt in 1907 that saved democracy from the huge concentrations of wealth … created during the Gilded Age. For the first time since the Gilded Age, we’re seeing those kind of economic concentrations return to our country.”
(Sun columnist) Johnny Boyd identified the solution to our broken system: get rid of the legalized bribery. We must change the American political system by outlawing private donations to political campaigns so that once again our politicians are beholden to the people.
Just last week, in The New York Times: “The levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It does not really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance. So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasing tax breaks for the wealthiest, while bought-and-paid for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we cannot afford them. When the game is rigged in your favor, you win.”
In regards to our town, the community must continue to encourage Jim and Paula Crown to be more fair. If the Crowns refuse to be fair, then we pass a living wage ordinance in Aspen and Snowmass. Seriously, who lets their company defend a $69 payment to an employee for a full day’s work on a product they charge $625 as a living wage? And for that matter, why would the Crowns allow Skico to defend $9.25/hour to employees as a living wage? Do the Crowns not believe in putting into practice what their philanthropy endorses? Do they care about taking a tax deduction from the American people? Do they care about their legacy? It does not make sense to so many. Is the love of money that great? Or is it arrogance? Or both? Regardless, it seems so oddly out of place with the history of Aspen.
SS: Have you received much private support from members of the ski patrollers union?
LM: I discovered that I have friends I did not know in both patrol and the school. I am honored by their support.
SS: What is the status of your appeal to Gov. Hickenlooper with regard to your personnel file? How about the National Labor Relations Board hearing that was originally set for Feb. 24?
LM: Unknown. There is no hearing on Feb. 24. It’s Skico’s last chance, they’ve been busy stalling and rescheduling for ages. Certain individuals been “unavailable” since November. Jeff Hanle stated that “the company has been cooperating fully.” OK, but why did the Feds have to issue subpoenas against Skico just to meet?
SS: You’ve always struck me as someone who had a pretty good gig going -plenty of work , an established clientele and the ability to travel during the off-season. Why did you decide to fight this fight in the first place?
LM: I loved my job -I had the opportunity to travel and teach clients in Europe, Dubai, Canada, Alaska and my favorite, Jackson Hole. It was like a paid vacation … the dream job. For the last decade, I have gone yearly to Park City with a letter from the Ski School of Aspen for weeks on end with clients. I know Park City mountain, the Canyons, and Deer Valley as well as Aspen Mountain. Why risk that? Freedom of expression. Specifically, protected freedom of expression.
I’m an artist – that’s the holy grail. After I wrote a letter to the editor in May, Skico, in sending e-mails designed to shut me up, broke federal labor law. And they did it again in August, after I mentioned the “U” word (union), they came after me with a tomahawk missile, General Dynamics latest version. Kidding!
If the Feds rule that Skico violated labor law, its employees may feel that as in Madison, as in Tunisia, as in Egypt: the fear will be broken. The lion-hearted Egyptians risked their lives to stand up for democracy and for personal liberties – we owe it to our ancestors … the shot heard round the world … to do the same and stand up for our protected rights as Americans.
SS: Do you believe, as Johnny Boyd has long maintained, that Skico sets the bar for wages in this valley? What do you believe is a livable wage (either hourly or salary) for the upper Roaring Fork Valley?
LM: Yes. The living wage movement has been recognized as the most significant grass roots movement since Civil Rights. All over America, religious and labor leaders are joining hands and petitioning for changes in the law. It’s simply raising the minimum wage to a livable figure. The Crowns may not appreciate that since it affects their bottom line but everyone that contributes to the product of Aspen and Snowmass should have time to enjoy it and it requires only one job. Not two or three!
SS: Have you lost personal friends as a result of your fight with the Skico? Have you gained new allies?
LM: I have lost friends and I understand. Skico’s assault on employees’ protected rights is ruthless. What happens when someone speaks out? We’re only getting a peek at their blatant disregard for federal labor law. They rule by fear, but not over everyone. Julie Ross resigned from the executive offices last year because she felt morally and ethically compromised working for Skico, all at a time when her husband was unemployed. I am just honored to even know her.
SS: The Skico has banned you from gaining access to “their” mountains. If that ruling holds, would you consider moving from the area as a result?
LM: Last week, the Aspen Daily News claimed if we were in China, all the newspaper columnists who spoke out against Skico would be in jail and I would have been put to death. So I guess I should consider myself lucky – I was only fired, banned from public lands, and smeared.
The funniest part for me was the fact that (Skico President Mike) Kaplan mentioned freedom of speech/speaking over 10 times in his letter. I am still fascinated by the “Arrested if I walk up National Forest Land” part. I’ll let the Feds rule first before I waltz up there with my snowboard; but the artistic writings of COBRA and the Situationists do stress trespassing and crossing into the territory of others.
SS: How much has this fight cost you in terms of time, lost revenue and lawyers’ fees?
LM: Strange as it may seem, I’ve learned so much: what is meaningful, what is of value. As my dad told me: “Life brings you thunderstorms. It’s up to you to dance in the rain.” In this consumer society, we often try to derive meaning by acquisition. And who hasn’t? But I’ve had to go back to my foundations, my roots, my upbringing for solace. I realize that I won the lottery of life a long time ago to be blessed by loving, caring parents who led storybook lives … devoted to helping others less fortunate.
SS: If you had this battle to do over, is there anything you would have done differently?
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To level the playing field between those who pay sales and lodging taxes on nightly rentals and those who skirt them, the city is ready to take names and make them pay.