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Heavenly union vote today

The 62 members of Heavenly Ski Resort’s ski patrol will decide today whether to join the Teamsters union Local 533, which – with the exception of government employees – can represent people in any industry.

“A year ago we began the campaign. At that time we had 65 ski patrollers as well as electricians and lift operators,” said Lou Martino, chief executive officer of Local 533.

In December 1998, 80 percent of those employees signed blue cards indicating an interest in joining a union. That majority does not mean the vote will pass, Martino said.



The National Labor Relations Board ruled only the ski patrol shared “a distinct and separate community of interest,” and is therefore eligible to vote on union representation. The decision curbed efforts of other resort employees to unionize.

Martino gave two reasons why the vote could be close.



n Electricians and lift operators – who initiated the effort to join a union – are not eligible to vote.

n There are 17 new members on the ski patrol.

“You never know how these things will go,” he said. “My perspective is that this is going to be very close.”

Educating new employees on the issues and convincing them to vote for unionization will be cumbersome, Martino said. “They probably think it is a great place to work because they get to ski all the time,” he added.

Heavenly’s attorney, John Feldman, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

A Heavenly ski patroller, speaking on condition of anonymity, is ambivalent about joining a union.

“This is a huge deal. It has national significance,” he said. “I certainly don’t agree with bringing the Teamsters in. They do trucking. I don’t think they have our best interests at heart. But I do agree with raising the standard of living.”

The labor board’s decision to allow the ski patrol vote was made last April, but the vote was postponed because of the seasonal nature of the ski industry. Typically, a vote is called within 25 and 30 days after a decision is released.

If the vote is successful, the Heavenly ski patrol will be the first such organization to join a union.

Reactions to the Heavenly vote are mixed at South Shore resorts.

“It hasn’t come up,” said Sierra-at-Tahoe’s Tracy Owen Chapman. “Because of our proactive, two-way communication – not only with ski patrollers but with all our departments – it is pretty much a non-issue.”

Chapman is not sure if a union would have a positive or a negative impact at Sierra-at-Tahoe. “Anything that would stand in the way of open communication would be harmful,” she said.

One member of the Kirkwood ski patrol, who declined to give his name, had a different perspective. He thought forming a union would help hold management a little more accountable for their actions, as well as improve workers’ safety and compensation.

“I think it would be a great idea,” he said. “Most people out here would support (joining a union).”


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