Employees, Heavenly debate qualification of union voters
Who will get to vote?
That was the topic during more than nine hours of testimony Monday, as representatives from Heavenly Ski Resort and the Teamsters union Local 533 met before a field agent of the National Labor Relations Board.
The union wants to represent the resort’s ski patrollers and lift maintenance department. In December 1998, 80 percent of the patrollers and electricians signed blue cards in favor of union representation, union advocates said. Employees said they approached the union because they wanted a voice in decisions about their hours and working conditions.
Heavenly wants “in theory everyone who works on the mountain,” to be included in the vote for union representation.
“The company is trying to add additional departments that the union did not file for, only to dilute our majority status, essentially nullifying our filing for an election,” said Lou Martino, chief executive officer of Local 533.
“We don’t think it’s appropriate for Local 533 to come in and cherry pick special groups, while ignoring people who work side by side with those people,” said John Feldman, attorney for Heavenly. “It’s very clear to us that the employees that show a community of interest on the mountain as a highly coordinated group should be involved in the vote.”
Heavenly argued Monday that the bargaining unit should include lift construction and maintenance and certain departments of mountain operations including: ski patrol, ski and snowboard instructors, snowmaking, lift operations, race/special events and the trail crew.
Malcolm Tibbetts, vice president of mountain operations, prepared a chart of interactions between the different departments for the hearing. He testified that in emergency situations, such as an avalanche or a lost skier, many departments work together.
Martino accused Heavenly of highlighting infrequent incidents to prove their point.
“Obviously, if there is a disaster, everybody on the mountain will be working to correct it,” Martino said. “It doesn’t mean it’s a day-to-day occurrence. The key point was when the company was questioned on how the groups work in conjunction categorically, they said they don’t know. The workers could testify they spent less than 1 percent of their time with other departments.”
Both sides have until March 17 to submit briefs on their positions to the National Labor Relations Board. Bruce Friend, the assistant regional director of the board, said it’s possible the regional director will make a decision by April 5, and an election could follow by the end of the month or early May. The union needs 50 percent of those who vote, plus one, to pass. Friend said the director’s decision can be appealed to the Washington headquarters, but an appeal usually wouldn’t hold up an election.
Five ski patrollers and a lift electrician were present at the hearing held at the South Lake Tahoe Recreation and Swim Complex. They said they wanted union representation to gain a voice in their hours and conditions of work. Overtime hours were also a large concern with the group. They don’t receive overtime pay until after 56 hours in a work week. A U.S. labor code exempts private businesses located in a national park or national forest from the 40-hour week rule.
If the union was voted in it would be the first ski resort under Teamsters’ contract in the country.
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