Ski areas bank on labor of love |

Ski areas bank on labor of love

David O. Williams

My experience with labor unions has been mixed.At the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where I was a part-time clerk and freelance stringer in college, a strong newspaper guild produced amazing results.Even in my lowly role, I enjoyed the fruits of a contract that paid me handsomely, provided paid vacations, and produced significant bonuses in July and December.On the flip side, a staff writer who was caught red-handed plagiarizing another reporter an offense that should result in immediate termination at most credible publications was able to stay employed because of the guild’s clout.Later in my career, at a suburban daily in the Seattle area, my union dues netted me next to nothing. Terrible hours, low pay and lousy benefits. That was about it.With the formation last spring of a national ski patrol union (see story page 8), organized labor is rearing its head once again in the ski industry a collection of companies notorious for terrible hours, low pay and lousy hours.Ski resorts tend to stay staffed by virtue of the fun factor. In other words, the lifestyle of a lift op is so fun that thousands of qualified candidates are lined up behind him to take his job. So don’t bitch about starvation wages in the most expensive place on the planet because anyone can be replaced.That practice has been exposed in recent years, as more and more ski bums have opted for real-world jobs, leading to an influx of immigrant workers in ski towns.And it’s a dangerous practice when it comes to ski patrol, a skilled position with increasing responsibility in this day and age of crowded slopes mixed with hyper-litigiousness.In some ways, I think labor unions are an anachronism, organizations that had a place in the first part of the last century, in an era of sweatshops and corporate abuse.But in this happy valley, and any number of ski towns around the country, employers need to be careful to treat workers with respect and to reward hard work.I can think of several business sectors locally including newspapers where work conditions have created a fertile breeding ground for labor unions.

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