CBMR feels pinch as workers leave

50 student workers leave

You may see ski area owner Diane Mueller vacuuming rooms at the Lodge, or Tim Mueller helping out all around the place, now that the Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s (CBMR) remaining supply of immigrant labor has left.

 

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This season CBMR relied on the efforts of 50 student immigrant workers employed under the Federal J-1 visa program, according to director of lodging operations Lynn Kiklevich. But by federal regulation, those visas will expire on April 1, leaving the resort shorthanded for the remainder of the season.
The ski area normally employs immigrant labor under two federal visa programs, J-1 student visas and H-2B seasonal labor visas.
CBMR was denied its allotment of H-2B visas this year because the National Immigration Services (NIS) reached its cap of 33,000 seasonal immigrants before the resort sent out its request for visas on September 27, 2007.
Two hundred and twenty-five workers were expected under the H2-B visa program, for a total of 1,100 workers at the resort during peak season, according to CBMR’s human resources director Lilly Hughes. Without those workers, CBMR was forced to rely solely on student visa workers and locally hired labor.
Although the remaining J-1 visas do not expire until April 1, CBMR general manager Randy Barrett says, “Some are already going home.”
Kiklevich says the majority of her J-1 employees left around March 15. “They left right before our busy week last week,” she says.
Barrett says the resort is expecting between 3,000 and 4,000 skiers per day this week, versus nearly 7,000 last week.
Kiklevich says the resort’s properties are 75 percent full this week. “We’re still pretty busy this week,” she says. “We just have to make it through one more week and then we’re on the downhill side.”
In particular, the labor shortages are being felt at the Elevation Hotel and Spa, the Lodge at Mountaineer Square, and the Grand Lodge, Kiklevich says, but J-1 workers were also ticket scanners and ski school instructors.
Barrett says the Elevation Hotel will be closing on Monday, March 31, which should alleviate some of the pressure. “In the lodging arena that’s where a lot of those were working,” Barrett says.
The immigrant labor shortage is also being felt at Crested Butte Lodging and Property Management. Assistant general manager Patrick Seaman says they hired nine employees on the J-1 program. “They have all since left and had to get back to school, which is one downside of the J-1 program. It definitely created a void with spring break,” he says.
Seaman says they did find some help from a few J-1 visa workers employed by CBMR who had some time to spare, but he believes they will all be gone by the end of the week “They were only here for the rest of spring break,” Seaman says.
Seaman says Crested Butte Lodging is also looking for a little relief as tourist numbers decline. “This is the last busy week. We’re full for this week and then it declines into the off-season,” he says.
Back at CBMR, Kiklevich says the resort has used several strategies to manage the loss. “We coped just by having all hands on deck,” she says of managers and department heads from across the resort who filled in by cleaning rooms, folding laundry, and working in the kitchen.
Kiklevich says a temporary labor service in Montrose was also contracted to fill some positions.
CBMR also put employment notices online and in newspapers looking for local help, advertising a $500 signing bonus for temporary housekeepers.
Kiklevich says, “We got a few out of that, but they don’t last long.”
However, Barrett says they will be getting a group of immigrant workers under the H-2B program. H-2B visas are split between summer and winter seasons, and on April 1 the resort will be able to hire immigrant labor for their summer season, which will also cover the last two weeks of ski season, he says.
The ski season officially ends on Sunday, April 13.

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