Hopes to address safety concerns, compensation and training opportunities
By Kendra Walker
While an official vote will take place in the coming weeks, the lift maintenance crew at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) has unionized to form the Crested Butte Lift Maintenance Professional Union. With 100% of the department signed in support, the union filed a petition on May 25 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for representation. At the same time, they requested voluntary recognition from Vail Resorts in order to sidestep the four-to-six-week process of an NLRB election. However, Vail chose to not voluntarily recognize the union by the union’s May 30 deadline and the lift maintenance crew must now go to a vote.
There are currently 10 workers of lift mechanics and electricians in the lift maintenance department, according to Communications Workers of America (CWA) 7781 local organizer Ryan Dineen. “This union would afford its members the ability to negotiate a contract with Vail Resorts for the wages, benefits and working conditions of this department and that contract would be independent of the ski patrol,” said Dineen. “The most effective way to communicate concerns and advocate for change in any workplace is with a collective voice backed up by collective power.”
The new Crested Butte Lift Maintenance Professional Union is the second lift maintenance crew in the country to unionize, next to the Park City Mountain Resort crew, which won their election for representation last October with an 85% margin of support.
According to a press release issued by CWA 7781 organizers, lift mechanics and electricians at CBMR face dangerous working conditions, high turnover and a lack of support for professional development. By unionizing, they will be able to address these issues to build a highly professional lift maintenance crew and a safer working environment. “It is time for Vail Resorts to recognize the Crested Butte Lift Maintenance Professional Union and promptly address these issues at the bargaining table,” said the release.
“Not many people understand what it really takes to maintain these machines,” said Thomas Pearman, who has worked as a CBMR lift mechanic for two years. “We want our mountain to prosper, but when all the decisions are being made in Broomfield boardrooms, we are left out.”
Pearman began as a lift operator and gradually started helping with lift maintenance. “That’s the job progression we typically see, but it’s not necessarily very clear,” he said. Pearman explained that in addition to addressing fair wages and safety issues, the union wants to establish a clear path of career progression for mechanics. “Not only are we trying to lay out that path more clearly, but we’re trying to focus on more specific training opportunities to help create and develop lift mechanics.”
Pearman also hopes the union will help better attract and retain employees. “The longest running person we have has been here for five years,” he said. “What ends up happening is people move on to find better paying jobs that require similar skill sets. We’re hoping to get more training and pay people based on the training that makes them more valuable. It’s sad when someone who is an asset that loves to live here moves across the country because they can’t afford to stay here.”
And while there are many factors they would like to change, Pearman said the union wants to help preserve the things that are going well. For example, “We’re one of the few lift maintenance departments that sends its full department to the Rocky Mountain Lift Association training conference in Grand Junction. It’s an opportunity for the whole crew to meet up with other resorts in our region and exchange information on lifts and parts and schedules and what needs to be changed – it’s an invaluable tool.”
The Crested Butte News reached out to CBMR representatives for comment regarding the new union. “CBMR has decided to exercise the right to participate in a campaign prior to voting. We want to have the opportunity to talk with our teammates on the lift maintenance team and listen to their concerns,” said senior manager of communications Sara Huey. “Most of the items they shared with their manager when starting this process hadn’t been brought to our attention before, and we’d like the opportunity to come together and have these important conversations. We’ve communicated this to them, and also notified the NLRB.”
Tara Schoedinger, CBMR general manager, also provided comment. “I am committed to the constant improvement of our employee experience, which includes significant investment in employee wages, employee benefits and affordable housing for the 22/23 season, among other steps,” said Schoedinger. “My leadership team and I are proud of our efforts so far, and I’m committed to continuing these efforts. I believe in engaging with all employees with respect, accountability, and transparency, and I encourage all staff members to communicate directly with me and our leadership team. My number one priority is working together as one team to ensure a positive employee experience, which includes sharing and addressing concerns together. I believe a direct relationship with our team works best rather than through a third party, and at the same time, am dedicated to working closely with our team whichever decision they make.”
The union’s petition with the NLRB now begins with a process that will culminate in a vote, Dineen explained. It will be a secret ballot vote of all individuals who are included in the agreed upon unit of lift mechanics and electricians. “Of the folks who choose to vote, 50% +1 must vote in favor of the union in order to compel the employer to recognize the union,” said Dineen.
If the vote goes in favor, the official union will go to the table with resort management and Vail representatives to begin the process of bargaining a contract to address safety concerns, compensation and other workplace conditions. Based on the full support from the crew to file the petition, Pearman feels confident the vote will pass in favor of the union.