Park City ski patrol union overwhelmingly votes to authorize a strike if negotiations fail with Vail Resorts

In a secret ballot vote, 98% of union members said they were prepared to stop work if necessary.

After nearly a year and a half of stalled contract negotiations between Vail Resorts and the Park City ski patrol union, the Utah ski patrollers have authorized a strike in a near-unanimous vote.

Union leadership announced Monday that 168 of its 171 members had voted in favor of a work stoppage if Vail Resorts does not offer a wage scale that the union finds acceptable.

“A strike authorization does not mean that a walkout is inevitable,” the Park City Professional Ski Patrol Association wrote on Instagram, noting that a bargaining session is scheduled for Monday night.

“However, it does show that our membership is prepared to participate in a work stoppage if necessary,” they continued.

Most, or all, of Park City — Utah’s largest ski resort by acreage — would likely shut down in the event of a strike, and the union acknowledged that “a strike has significant consequences reaching far beyond our membership to other mountain employees and the Park City community.”

“Ideally,” the union said, “the company sees this authorization [as] an indicator of our collective strength and offers us a reasonable contract without requiring further action.”

Vail Resorts told The Salt Lake Tribune last week that it was preparing for a potential strike. In response to the union’s announcement Monday, a company spokesperson said, “We continue to have productive conversations with the union and have another collective bargaining session scheduled for this evening.”

A Vail employee sent an email to ski patrollers at a Vail-owned New Hampshire resort last week offering them $600 per day plus travel expenses to work as “temp patrollers” in Park City. The email was quickly retracted. Vail Resorts said the email was not authorized by the company, adding that the wages offered in the email had never been discussed.

Patrick Murphy, the union’s business manager, told The Tribune Monday afternoon that the vote count was “about as strong a message as we can send.”

“Tonight, our bargaining committee will be meeting with the company for [our 50th] bargaining session,” he said, “and we are hopeful that the company sees this authorization vote as an indicator of our collective strength and presents a reasonable contract proposal.”

Over 90% of the resort’s ski patrol is unionized.

The two parties have been in negotiations since August 2020. Ski patrollers currently start at $13.25 per hour, making them the lowest-paid Vail Resorts employees in all of Park City.

Vail has offered to up that to $15 per hour, but the union has continued to hold out for a $17 per hour starting wage with a $1 per hour wage increase over the first three years, which the union says is the industry standard across the Western U.S.

Park City and the attached Canyons resort have hundreds of avalanche paths that ski patrollers — who are also medically trained first responders — clear with explosives. The union has cited the danger of the work, and the extensive training necessary to be on the patrol, as reasons why its members deserve a higher wage.

The union has raised $77,000 for a solidarity fund since Christmas.

Zak Podmore is a Report for America corps member for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.