Breckenridge ski patrollers decide to unionize in 43-42 vote

Skiers and riders wait in line on opening day Nov. 13 at Breckenridge Ski Resort. On Monday, May 3, Breckenridge ski patrol voted to unionize.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

Breckenridge ski patrol will unionize.

A union vote for ski patrollers at Breckenridge Ski Resort was tallied Monday, May 3, showing the union winning by one vote. Of the 85 ballots counted, 43 votes were for union representation and 42 were against. Three ballots were voided. The ski patrollers will join the Communications Workers of America labor union as a result of the election.

Beau Sibbing has been a Breckenridge ski patroller for seven years and was one of the leaders of the unionization effort. Sibbing said he and other patrollers decided to organize a unionization effort to change how communication takes place between patrollers and management.

“We just kind of felt that after several years of sort of stagnant wages and almost decreasing working conditions, it was time that we stood up for ourselves and (introduced) a new way of talking to the company,” Sibbing said.

Ryan Anderson, an eight-year Breckenridge ski patroller who also led the effort, said another reason patrollers started having conversations about unionizing was because they felt Vail Resorts was not treating the patrollers as professional first responders. Anderson said a group of patrollers got together to talk about concrete steps to improve their work situation, which is what initiated petitioning for union representation.

In a statement from Vail Resorts, the company said it was disappointed with the outcome of the election and noted how close the call was.

“We are … particularly concerned about the impact it will have on our patrol given that out of 114 patrollers, only 43 actually voted for union representation, with 42 voting against,” the statement read. “While we continue to believe that engaging directly with our employees is the best way to foster an inclusive culture and build strong relationships, we respect our patrollers’ right to choose to have a union speak for them with regard to their wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.”

Breckenridge Patrol Director Kevin Ahern shared the company’s concerns about the number of patrollers who voted for unionization.

“As I told our patrollers, while I personally believe, and know from experience, that unionizing is the wrong choice, I will respect their decision,” Ahern wrote in an email. “However, what is troubling to me is that only about one-third of our patrollers voted for the union. It seems that nowhere close to a majority actually wanted union representation, but if the vote is certified, they will now be required to have a third party speak on their behalf. It’s a disappointing process, but I know the leadership at Breck will do everything to support their employees regardless of the outcome.”

Next up, Sibbing said ski patrollers will work with the Communications Workers of America to put together a contract to present to management at Breckenridge. According to the National Labor Relations Board, after employees choose a union as a bargaining representative, the employer and union are required to meet “at reasonable times to bargain in good faith about wages, hours, vacation time, insurance, safety practices and other mandatory subjects.”

The statement from Vail Resorts added that if results of the election are certified, the company will comply with all applicable labor and employment laws and will “bargain in good faith with the representative selected by our ski patrol.”

Sibbing said main topics the patrollers want to negotiate are wages and hours.

“We’re working overtime every single week, so just trying to put that into a healthier package so that we cannot exhaust ourselves and also get a wage that’s livable in Summit County,” Sibbing said. “The heart and soul of this movement that we have going is to create a win-win situation, to create a dialogue that is good not just for ski patrol but also for Vail (Resorts) — a more direct way of speaking.”

Anderson said the patrollers have a long road ahead in terms of gathering membership and putting together a cohesive voice, but he is hopeful about the long-term effects of unionization.

“If we do gain some wage increase or extra PTO … those things will be momentary,” Anderson said. “The long-standing benefits that will see us through formation of a union and see us through negotiations and through various goals that we may have is just the philosophical goal of having a voice in the process and having a more direct line from our line-level patrollers to our corporate folks who make all the decisions.”

Both Sibbing and Anderson said they are hopeful the union movement will continue among other ski patrol groups, despite the recent vote of Keystone Resort ski patrol not to unionize. Sibbing said a ski patroller’s job across the country has changed dramatically over the past 10 to 20 years with increased responsibilities and necessary knowledge, including avalanche mitigation and emergency medical responsibilities. He said the job is much higher level than it used to be and that ski patrollers need to get out of the job what they put into it in order to continue in the field.

“There are a few patrols that have been unionized for long periods of time, and they seem to have very effective, good, open relationships with their management. And so, this doesn’t have to be a combative, divisive relationship between our union and management. We hope to create some mutually beneficial choices that have been missed just due to the fact that we haven’t had our opinions heard,” Anderson said. “I do hope that many more patrols can join us in making this move because, as an industry, there are many things that can be changed to make our workplaces safer and have a career path in a wonderful profession.”

Sibbing reported that no ballots were challenged during the election. However, either party in the election may file objections “to the conduct of the election or to conduct affecting the results of the election,” according to the National Labor Relations Board. Objections must be filed within seven days after the ballot tally has been issued. If no objections are filed, the results of the election will be certified.

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