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Park City Mountain lift mechanics to vote on unionization later this month

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KPCW
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Park City Mountain mechanics Matt Wright (left) and Liesl Jenkins in KPCW studios.

Lift mechanics at Park City Mountain will vote this month to decide whether or not to form a union. If a majority of them say yes, they will become the country’s first union of their kind.

43 lift mechanics and electricians will have the opportunity to vote on November 21 and 22. Polls will be open at the Legacy Lodge and at the Grand Summit Hotel in Canyons Village.

They are seeking to organize as the Park City Lift Maintenance Professional Union under the United Professional Ski Patrols of America, which represents over 650 ski patrollers at Park City, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, and other resorts.

That’s a branch of the Communication Workers of America (CWA).

80% of workers signed the petition that initiated the election.

The typical schedule for the lift maintenance team is four days a week, 10 hours a day, but that often stretches to 12 hours, workers said. After employees pass 40 hours of work in one week, time and a half is applied.

Starting wages begin at $21 an hour, slightly above Park City Mountain owner Vail Resorts’ base wage for all employees, which is $20 per hour.

“On a normal day in the winter you will come in at 6 o’clock and if you’re lucky you’ll leave right around 5:30," said Matt Wright, a lift mechanic at the resort.

"So there are a lot of long days, long hours. We have to stay late to do monthly checks, weekly checks on the machines, make sure everything is up to par. It takes a lot of time and a lot of energy to keep these things running smoothly and efficiently.”

Despite what people may think, Wright said the hardest work is actually during the summer, when the team tackles large maintenance projects that can’t be done during the winter.

FULL INTERVIEW: Park City Mountain mechanics Matt Wright & Liesl Jenkins talk unionization

A Park City Mountain spokesperson said the lift maintenance team has seen a 29% average wage increase since July of last year.

Wright said that increase simply isn’t enough, given the high cost of living in a ski town and the tough working conditions of the job.

Following a tough 21/22 ski season, Vail Resorts raised its base starting wage for all employees from $15 to $20 per hour in an effort to combat labor shortages.

“The wage compression issue that we’ve felt within our department for people who have been there for a number of years - decades - those are the people that have really felt the squeeze," Wright said.

"I applaud Vail’s efforts to increase the base wage for everyone that works on mountain. It’s a real need to staff those lifts and things like that. But the people who take care of those lifts have felt that compression more than anybody. Lift maintenance used to be a job that wasn’t a job on the mountain, you could make it into a career.”

Park City Mountain Vice President and COO Deirdra Walsh told KPCW in a statement that she has deep respect and gratitude for the lift maintenance team. She also said she fundamentally believes in a direct relationship with Park City Mountain employees, rather than through a third party.

“The third party is one of the big speaking points that a corporation always brings up whenever a union starts getting involved," Wright said.

"What I want to make clear is we are this union. This is a collection of people that have worked at this resort for a lot of years.

"We didn’t come to this decision lightly. It’s something that we truly believe is for the benefit of not only this department, but this ski mechanics, electricians profession in the industry.”

Last ski season, a union that represents roughly 90% of ski patrollers at Park City Mountain won a new contract with better wages and benefits after tense negotiations with the company for over a year and a half.

At one point before the contract approval, members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if union leaders wanted to go down that path. Ultimately negotiations ended before any strike.

Liesl Jenkins, another member of the lift maintenance team, said the organization of the ski patrollers has served as encouragement.

“The way that they have been able to achieve this cohesion as a unit has been something that’s very inspiring to our department," she said.

"The way that they’re able to advocate for themselves as a department, advocate for each other, has been really important, and really sets an example for us.”

Jenkins said they’ve come up with ideas for what they’d like to see in a collective bargaining agreement, but that they are currently focused on the vote.

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.