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Big Sky Ski Patrol votes to unionize

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On April 29, Big Sky Resort Professional Ski Patrol voted 69-21 to unionize. PHOTO BY SKYLAB MEDIA HOUSE

By Joseph T. O’Connor EBS Editor-in-Chief

BIG SKY – After a monthslong process following years of internal negotiations between workers, directors and management, the Big Sky Resort Professional Ski Patrol has voted to unionize.

In a 69-21 vote tallied on April 29, patrollers at Big Sky Resort chose to be represented by the United Professional Ski Patrols of America, a labor union organized under the Communications Workers of America, in an effort to gain better working conditions along with more competitive wages and benefits, patrol representatives said. 

The vote has been a long time coming, according to 15-year patrol veteran Noah Ronczkowski, but much is left to be determined.

“I can’t necessarily speak for everyone on the ski patrol,” said Ronczkowski, 39, who has been part of the group pushing for better conditions since 2014, “but I do feel like I understand what a lot of [patrollers] are saying and feel like I can speak fairly well on behalf of the majority of the 77 percent of people who voted yes to unionize the ski patrol.”

Big Sky’s patrol joins Crested Butte, Steamboat and Telluride in Colorado, as well as Utah’s Park City and Stevens Pass in Washington, all patrols represented by CWA. On May 3, Breckenridge ski patrollers in Colorado voted to unionize under CWA by a vote of 43-42. Last month, Keystone patrol voted against organizing a union.

While discussions have been underway since the 1980s, the most recent negotiations at Big Sky Resort began in 2014 when a group of nine ski patrollers began meeting unofficially outside of work to discuss the direction the ski patrol was headed, according to an BSSP Organizing Committee email obtained by EBS. 

“It was unanimous that the working conditions, wages, and benefits were not sustainable to make this job a career,” the email read. “It was decided that unionization would be a last resort.”

Over the next six years, the group sought to negotiate with resort directors and management without forming a union, and in 2019 proposed three requests to resort management: healthcare, paid time off and annual cost of living adjustments, or COLA, to keep wages consistent with the increasing cost of living and working in a resort town like Big Sky.

In February 2020, the patrol organized a focus group to streamline communication between patrollers and directors, and in April 2020, a dozen patrollers had a Zoom call with CWA “to get a better idea of what it would look like to unionize,” the email read.

“We respect and appreciate the thoughtful discussions our Ski Patrol team has had while in the union organization process,” said Troy Nedved, general manager for Big Sky Resort, in a statement to EBS. “Ultimately, we are one team who share a common passion for skiing in Big Sky, and we are committed to moving forward and working together to provide the best workplace possible.”

The summer and offseason hold negotiations for both sides: the patrollers and the resort. But no guarantees exist for unionizing at this point, according to Ronczkowski.

“It doesn’t guarantee anything at all,” he said. “The only thing it guarantees is a seat at the table.”

CWA representatives were unable to be reached for comment before EBS press time on May 5.

Mira Brody contributed reporting to this story.

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