Aspen Skiing Co. mulls changes to ski school’s inner workings
August 29, 2011
ASPEN – With less than three months to go until ski season, the Aspen Skiing Co. is assessing what changes it must make to the internal structure of its ski school to comply with the National Labor Relations Act.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found while investigating a grievance by former Skico employee Lee Mulcahy that Skico was potentially in technical violation of labor law by having management representatives participate on various committees for ski instructors. Under the labor act, those boards or committees are considered labor organizations, which management isn’t supposed to influence, according to NLRB documents.
In a settlement agreement between Mulcahy and Skico, which the NLRB approved on July 1, Skico pledged not to “dominate, assist or otherwise support” the advisory boards.
Skico Vice President of Human Resources Jim Laing sent a letter to instructors last week, alerting them that changes will be necessary to a committee structure that the ski schools have used for 18 years.
“The concern [NLRB officials] have expressed is that our ski school committee structure, like many other efforts by employers around the country to allow employees a meaningful voice in company functions, could be seen to violate this prohibition,” Laing wrote in his letter, a copy of which The Aspen Times obtained. “From our perspective we believe the committees encourage open communication and help grow the professionalism for which our ski school is known.
“We are currently conducting a complete review of committee functions,” Laing continued. “However, before making any final decisions regarding changes to our existing ski school structure we will seek and encourage input.”
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Skico restructured the ski school in 1993, in large part to address instructors’ grievances and improve their relations with management. As part of that restructuring, committees were established to discuss benefits, training and safety and risk awareness. In addition, a pro council was established, allowing a committee of peers to tackle issues such as appeals by instructors over disciplinary issues.
Skico designed the system to give instructors a voice without their forming a union. Skico employs about 1,200 instructors each season.
The popularity of the committee system is tough to gauge. At a meeting that attracted about 30 ski instructors in January, some speakers expressed concerns that Mulcahy’s complaints to the NLRB would force the ski school to dismantle a committee system they felt was an effective tool for communication with management.
Now – almost eight months later – their concerns about the structure are bearing out. It remains unclear from Laing’s letter what degree of changes Skico will make to the committee structure and the ramifications for the ski school.
One change could be removing management representatives from the committees. Laing’s letter didn’t discuss that option.
One recipient of Laing’s letter said it raises a lot of uncertainty among ski instructors about the future of the ski school structure.
Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the changes in internal structure won’t have any bearing on ski school customers. He contended that the wording of the settlement agreement makes the issue “sound more major than it is.” It merely requires some adjustments to get the committee system within the legal framework of the NLRB, he said.
“The intent is to not make major changes to a system that’s worked well for the pros,” Hanle said.
Laing’s letter to the ski instructors concludes with that same tone: “What I can tell you at this time is that we are philosophically committed to our current collaborative style of management and will make every effort to maintain a structure that supports this, while still working within the confines of the laws that are made and enforced by the NLRB.”