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Labor cuts will run deep at St. Regis Aspen

St. Regis Aspen Resort
Aspen Times file

Nearly every employee at one of Aspen’s largest hotels either has experienced or faces hourly cuts, furloughs or layoffs into the fall.

In a letter dated June 2 and addressed to Aspen Mayor Torre and Karen Hoopes of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, St. Regis human resources director Darren Zemnick said what the company originally believed were temporary labor cuts now will surpass six months because of a reeling hospitality industry.

Of the Aspen hotel’s 264 employees, 263 have or will be impacted by the measures, the letter said. Those affected include 41 massage therapists at the St. Regis’ spa, eight laundry attendants, 12 banquet servers, multiple positions with one title holder — the pastry chef and marketing director, for instance — among other jobs.

St. Regis began instituting the furloughs, layoffs and hourly cuts March 21 — 10 days after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic March 11 — according to a notice filed under the Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification Act (WARN).

The notice casts a dim outlook for a tourism economy stymied by the pandemic and restricted by public health orders.

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Pitkin County’s board of health allowed lodges and hotels to reopen, at 50% capacity, beginning May 27. Lodge operators are bracing, however, for a steep drop in business because of a summer tourism calendar emptied of prime events including the Aspen Ideas Festival and the Food & Wine Classic due to the pandemic.

“Based on public health guidance and business forecasts available at the time (in March), it was initially expected that these temporary actions would last significantly less than six months and that the location (St. Regis Aspen) would return to normal business levels,” the notice said. “These government COVID-19 directives, however, have repeatedly been expanded and extended and have forced people to remain in place, restricting business, large gatherings, and travel in general. These expanded and extended government directives have caused a sudden, severe and worsening downturn in the hospitality industry that now makes it reasonably foreseeable that these temporary actions may extend beyond six months.”

Under federal labor law, business are required to give employees at least 60 days notice of closings or mass layoffs.

Other WARN notices issued recently include one dated May 30 by Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa, which said it will lay off seven of its employees and furlough 107 of them.

Messages left with Zemnick and St. Regis general manager Heather Steenge-Hart were not immediately returned Wednesday. The CDLE’s Hoopes also could not be reached.

The most recent labor statistics available for Colorado and Pitkin County were for April, and showed the state had an unemployment rate of 11.3% in April, compared with 14.7% on a national level.

“This is the highest unemployment rate for Colorado since comparable records began in 1976,” said a statement the CDLE issued May 22.

Pitkin County, meanwhile, topped the state with a 21.1% unemployment rate in April, as 8,921 of its civilian workforce of 11,604 was employed that month, according to labor statistics.

Jobs in Colorado’s leisure and hospitality industry also declined by 148,100 in April — accounting for more than half of the state’s 323,500 non-farm jobs lost that month.

Lodging occupancy rates for the winter season Aspen and Snowmass Village lodges and hotels also dropped 22.5% for the ski season, according to a season-ending report issued by Stay Aspen Snowmass in May.

Occupancy in properties at the two towns combined was 48.7%, after what had been a solid bookings season so far until the pandemic prompted Gov. Jared Polis to order ski areas to close starting March 15.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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