Patrollers may join national union |

Patrollers may join national union

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Ski patrollers on the four Aspen Skiing Co. mountains are expected to soon affiliate themselves with the Communication Workers of America, a national union representing workers in a variety of professions.

“We still need to sign an affiliation agreement with them but I think we probably will,” said Doug Driskell of the Aspen Mountain patrol and a leader in the local patrol association. “We just need to make sure there is a consensus across all the mountains.”

About 300 ski patrollers at resorts in Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Steamboat and the Canyons in Utah decided on Tuesday to join CWA. The union will form Local 7781, which will be known as the United Professional Ski Patrols of America, or UPSPA. Patrollers at Snowbird are also said to be considering joining UPSPA.

The CWA represents over 700,000 workers, most of whom work in the telecommunications sector. Other CWA members work in the government, health care, education and other sectors.

“We’re feeling the economic squeeze on the [ski resort] industry and in our ability to perform professionally,” said Al Rosenthal, a longtime member of the ski patrol at the Steamboat Ski Area and president pro tem of the United Professional Ski Patrols of America. “We are affiliating with the CWA to enhance our ability to meet our charge and to expand our organization nationwide.”

The Aspen/Snowmass ski patrol first unionized in 1986 and formed the Aspen Professional Ski Patrol Association, or APSPA, as an independent local union.

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The patrollers then became affiliated with District 2A Transportation, Technical, Warehouse, Industrial and Service Employees Union, part of the American Maritime Officers Union.

That union recently went out of business, but a number of unionized ski patrols in Colorado and Utah had organized themselves into a coalition that was open to affiliating with a national parent union.

If the Skico’s patrollers do in fact sign up with CWA, it is not expected to change the tone of the negotiations between the patrollers and the Skico.

“We’ll continue to negotiate on the local level as APSPA,” said Tim Cooney, a veteran patroller on Aspen Mountain who has been a union negotiator in the past.

And that’s the way the Skico would like to keep it.

“When you bring people in from the outside that don’t understand our industry, our community, and our history, it sometimes complicates the process,” said Jim Laing, the vice president of human resources at the Skico said. “We’ve developed a very good win-win, long-term relationship.”

Cooney agreed that the relationship between the Skico and the 163 members of APSPA was positive.

“We get along and our negotiations go well,” Cooney said. “We understand the ski business and they understand our need to live here and have benefits and make a living.”

Laing concurs. “We’ve been working together for many years and the relationship is better than it ever has been,” he said.

The patrol and the Skico now sit down each fall to review their contracts, which cover such issues as wages, benefits, training and equipment allowances.

Driskell, who is the secretary of APSPA, said the union has helped in a number of instances.

For example, he pointed to a recent change in state law that allows employers to delay paying overtime wages to seasonal workers until they’ve worked 56 hours a week. The patrol’s union contract helped make that a non-issue for patrollers and overtime still kicks in for them after 40 hours a week.

The Aspen ski patrol union was formed after patrollers found themselves facing lower wages and benefits at the start of the 1985-86 ski season. That led to the formation of a local union.

“In 1986 we organized to protect ourselves from a management team who saw the cutting of employee pay and benefits as a way to meet the owner’s demand for cost reductions while enhancing management’s own compensation package,” states the Web site of the Aspen Professional Ski Patrol Association. “Many things had been taken away when we returned to work in the fall of 1985. These included a profit sharing plan, equipment allowances, part of the health insurance benefit and pay raises.

“These losses affected our lives and families. Never again would we find out after the fact that benefits had been taken away. We now had the opportunity to negotiate for the benefits that were lost.”

One of the patrol association’s slogans is “united we stand, divided we beg.”