Steamboat Springs More than 400 professional ski patrollers from six ski areas in Colorado and Utah have joined the Communications Workers of America.
Ski patrol representatives made the announcement Tuesday during the Colorado All-State Ski Patrol convention in Steamboat. The ski patrollers had been represented by a union that ceased to exist last summer.
"We do consider ski patrolling to be a profession even though it's a seasonal business," said Al Rosenthal, a longtime member of the ski patrol at Steamboat Ski Area and president pro tem of the United Professional Ski Patrols of America.
"We're feeling the economic squeeze on the (ski resort) industry and in our ability to perform professionally. We are affiliating with the CWA to enhance our ability to meet our charge and to expand our organization nationwide."
The CWA is an affiliate of the AFL/CIO. Its membership is a diverse group that includes teachers, telephone company workers and government workers from New Jersey to Arizona. Union officials say ski patrollers fit in with other health care workers they represent.
Representatives of ski patrol management at Steamboat were in meetings late Tuesday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.
Rosenthal said affiliated ski patrols at each ski area will function as separate bargaining units and their contracts will be negotiated independently.
Ski patrollers at Steamboat, Breckenridge, Keystone, Aspen, Crested Butte and the Canyons at Park City, Utah, were previously represented by the American Maritime Officers Union District 2A, but that union is now defunct.
Union ski patrollers at Steamboat are currently in the third year of a four-year collective bargaining agreement. Rosenthal hopes preliminary discussions on wages will be undertaken at Steamboat this fall, looking ahead to working toward a new contract next summer.
Steamboat is not a closed shop and there is no intention of requiring ski patrollers to join the new union in order to be employed at one of the member ski areas, Rosenthal said. He estimates that among 60 current ski patrollers and courtesy patrollers here, 58 are members of the union.
Union dues in Steamboat are currently capped at $20 a month and will gradually be increased until full dues equal 1.29 percent of monthly gross pay, based on 40 hours a week. New ski patrollers at Steamboat start at $8.25 an hour, Rosenthal said. Their dues would be $18.50 a month. Professional ski patrollers in Crested Butte were the first to organize in 1978, with an independent union. Fifteen-year veteran Ruth Monte said she and her colleagues have been able to retain benefits lost by other categories of workers at Crested Butte. Although labor relations with Crested Butte management were contentious many years ago, that is no longer the case, she said.
Kevin Mulligan, District 7 organizer for the CWA, said one of the union's goals will be to increase the longevity of ski patrollers.
"We want to build the credibility and power needed to build bargaining strength to negotiate contacts that promote a standard of living that keeps high quality pros on the slopes," Mulligan said.
Larry "Lew" Ellingson, who is the District 7 representative for the CWA based in Denver, said the approach to management will not necessarily be adversarial, and one of his union's goals is to help ensure the profitability of ski resorts.