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Ski patrol to Vail’s offer: a ‘resounding no’

 Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association patrollers hold signs and attract honks from drivers on Highway 224
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Park City ski patrollers last week voted down Vail's latest contract proposal, which they say contained a $15 per hour initial starting wage. The union says its focus is to make ski patrolling a career rather than a seasonable job.

Breckenridge’s ski patrollers inked a deal with parent company Vail Resorts last Monday, but in Park City, negotiations have been going on for nearly a year and a half. The patrol union recently and resoundingly voted down Vail’s latest contract proposal.

The Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association has been negotiating with Park City Mountain Resort owner Vail Resorts in one form or another since last August.

On Friday, the union rejected Vail’s most recent contract proposal. Patrick Murphy, the union’s business manager, said the union represents almost all of the nearly 200 Park City patrollers. He wouldn’t share details about the vote, but he called it a “resounding ‘No.’”

In a prepared statement, Vail spokesperson Jessica Miller said Vail was “very disappointed” with the outcome of the vote given the months of discussions that preceded it. The statement also says the rejected proposal is very similar to the ones ratified recently by the patrols at both Breckenridge and Stevens Pass resorts.

"Last Friday, Park City Mountain Ski Patrol union members rejected a contract proposal their bargaining team put to a vote which provided wage increases for all patrollers, incentive pay, increased wage caps, retroactive pay, an equipment allowance, additional investment into their tools and training, and access to future company bonuses including one for the 21-22 winter season,” the statement said.

The union contends Vail would not increase its $15 starting wage offer, and in fact offered the proposal three times in a row, prompting the union to call a vote.

A Vail representative didn’t comment on the starting wage, but said the union’s version of events doesn’t include the full picture of compensation talks.

Under the previous contract, starting patrollers earn $13.25 per hour.

Murphy said the union asked for a $16.70 hourly starting wage when the economic negotiations began in early spring. This summer, Vail announced a $15 minimum wage for employees at many of its resorts, including PCMR, but that doesn't include union members.

In addition to increased pay, the union is asking for front-loaded sick time that would be available immediately when a new patroller starts. But Murphy said the highest priority is retaining ski patrollers, with wages being a significant but not exclusive aspect of that discussion.

“Vail Resorts, our parent company, has stated that they lead the industry in employee benefits. However, our neighboring resorts in the Wasatch are reportedly starting new patrollers at $17 an hour this season. Meanwhile, we have patrollers approaching a decade of experience who will still make under $20 an hour,” Murphy said. “… The only way to continue to retain those really good, experienced patrollers is if we can make this a viable career. So when we have better pay and we're paid fairly for the job that we're doing, we're able to keep those really good patrollers and that strengthens our patrol.”

Patrollers continue to receive paychecks and are covered by health insurance while they’re working without a contract. The terms of a new deal are generally implemented retroactively.

But without a collectively bargained agreement in place, the door is open for a work action or strike. The patrol has staged what it calls “educational rallies” holding signs that say “Not on strike just practicing.”

Murphy said the union is “still doing everything we can to avoid a strike and we are still optimistic we can get a deal in place. That is not the path we want to go down if we can help it.”

Vail said, “We are focused on supporting a safe and enjoyable ski and ride experience this season and sincerely hope our patrollers will choose to do the same.”

There are no future talks scheduled, but both sides said they hope to return to the bargaining table soon.