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Park City Mountain lift maintenance union preps for first contract negotiations with Vail

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Liesl Jenkins
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A Park City Lift Maintenance Professional Union member said contract negotiations will begin in February.

After forming a union in a historic December vote, Park City Mountain’s lift maintenance team is now preparing for contract negotiations with parent company Vail Resorts.

After becoming the first lift maintenance and resort electrician union in the country last month, other ski resort workers have reached out from across the country to learn more. That’s according to Liesl Jenkins, a Park City team member that worked to organize.

“People have reached out from afar which is really cool," Jenkins said.

"From coast to coast really, Vermont to Oregon. We’ve been sending merch to people and things like that. Definitely have had a very positive reaction.”

Jenkins said some are curious about forming their own union.

“Talked to a few people who are very interested in starting this whole process, and letting them know how we did it, and kind of what the best path forward is,” she said.

Now that the Park City Lift Maintenance Professional Union is official, it can negotiate a contract with Vail Resorts with the hope of obtaining higher wages and better benefits.

For new lift maintenance personnel, pay starts at $21 an hour at Park City. That’s just one dollar more than the base wage of $20 per hour for all Vail employees.

Matt Wright, another union member, said lift mechanics do similar work to those who fix elevators and escalators, but because those are more essential than ski lifts, those workers are often paid much more.

Wright also said a primary concern is that long-term employees feel their pay increases aren’t enough to set them apart from newer hires.

“A 12-year mechanic here would be at about $27 [an hour], and he probably would have started right around 12 or 13 dollars [an hour], and worked here for 12 years to get up to 27," Wright said.

"But, they just jumped everyone up to that $21 level.”

For bargaining purposes, Wright and Jenkins didn’t identify their specific goals for a future contract. The union recently formed a five-member committee to negotiate with the company.

They hope increased wages will also help recruit talented maintenance professionals, as they said they could use the extra staff.

Wright said their job requires physical danger as well.

“We climbed every single tower on McConkey’s yesterday for snow removal," he said in an interview last week.

"So that involves climbing up 65-70-foot tower in some instances, with the lift running. The passing of chairs at 900 feet a minute, which is about 14 mph. It’s a eight-second interval out on the line in between chairs passing over the tower, shaking… There’s a general height that people sometimes have a problem with.”

Jenkins said the lift terminals they work in are very confined spaces. In some situations, if they place their hand in the wrong place, they could lose it.

In a statement, a Park City Mountain spokesperson said “we care deeply about all of our employees, and we are committed to treating all of them equitably and investing in their continued development. We have demonstrated this in the past year by increasing wages and investing in affordable housing, mental health, leadership development and other perks and benefits.”

The resort spokesperson added that they respect workers’ decision to form a union, and will comply with all applicable labor laws and bargain in good faith.

Jenkins said contract negotiations will begin next month.

“We’re trying to sit down and look for interest-based things that unite us," she said.

"So we want to be the best lift maintenance and electronics department as possible. Vail at Park City Mountain resort would also like that as well. And so what are things that we can do to kind of meet in the middle and make sure that that goal is realized.”

Parker Malatesta covers Park City for KPCW. Before coming to NPR, he spent one year as a general assignment reporter for TownLift in Park City. He previously was the news editor at The News Record, the student paper at the University of Cincinnati. He loves running, reading, and urban planning.
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