How Eldora Resort and Powdr Corp worked to silence labor.

Despite signing union cards late last year, Eldora Patrollers face an uncertain future as Powdr Corp and Eldora Resort continue to disregard their federally protected rights.
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How Eldora Resort and Powdr Corp worked to silence labor.

The road to an official union vote has been arduous. After casual conversations towards the end of the 2023 season, Eldora patrollers reached out to organizers at the CWA Local 7781 (United Professional Ski Patrols of America) for guidance. The CWA clarified Eldora patrol’s legal obligations, and set them on a path toward organization. Eldora’s patrollers spent months gathering support by distributing information to coworkers, facilitating dialogue, and holding virtual town hall meetings. And it worked. There was a real appetite for unionization, and enthusiasm among a majority of patrollers. In late 2023, nearly three-quarters (71%) of eligible patrollers signed union cards. The signing of union cards, which while technically informal, is a required step in the process. No election can be held until 30% of eligible employees indicate their support. At 50%, an employer can legally formally recognize the union, without the need for an official election vote. An entire season has passed since the signing of these union cards. They have only just voted. 

What did the outreach process look like?

Organizers held digital town halls (due to the disparate locations of patrollers, likely a product of the state’s housing crisis), and one-on-one discussions with interested parties. “We pride ourselves on the fact we never used the language of coercion or guilt during the process” one patroller told us, “we kept it strictly educational, offering only our facts, and opinions if we were asked to do so”. The organizers say they identified a few staunch anti-union folks early on, and respected their boundaries. This is a sentiment echoed by the supporting CWA organizers, who consistently advise that time is better spent on those with a keen interest. Alongside this, Eldora Patrol utilized social media to offer up critical information on the union process, and to share their work experience with the snowsports industry. This proved popular, with over 5000 followers supporting their cause. Immediately after filing their petition for election with the NLRB, patrol also sent a request for voluntary recognition of the union to Eldora management, which, as expected, they declined. 

“ does not take us seriously, they rely on us for everything on the mountain. We support every other department and they still get away with treating us like shit… we have asked repeatedly for years for any kind of toilet and hand washing station at our patroller headquarters, to no avail. There are female patrollers who are forced to urinate in the woods, and deal with their periods with no access to sanitation… Our HR director claims to have “never heard” these complaints despite us bringing them up in person and in our employee surveys. This all goes to show they never listen to us. They simply don’t care…” 

Despite their vocal lack of support for unionization, Eldora Resort has always reiterated their commitment to treating employees with ‘respect’ and ‘dignity’ and to providing them with excellent benefits, and ‘competitive’ wages. This respect is unfortunately not extended to housing provision, genuine health insurance coverage, adequate gear allowance, sufficient training and upskilling opportunities, or even something as simple as a place to wash their hands. Here is a list of some of the examples given as to why a majority of patrol want to unionize: 

  1. Overtime at 40 hours: currently patrollers do not receive overtime until 56 hours worked, or after 12 hours in one day. 
  2. Support to do their jobs: this includes appropriate training support, and an appropriate gear allowance.
  3. Improved working conditions: access to toilet, sanitation etc. 
  4. Healthcare that better protects workers. 
  5. Adequate wages for the cost of living in the region.

At the same time, Eldora held ‘captive meetings’ with their employees. According to many that attended, they felt they were “being lied to, and blatantly misled” about their rights. This also included being told that a union was “not what was right” for them. 

Before we go further, let us clarify why these demands matter…

The tourism industry nationwide runs off of the idea that these are dream jobs in dream locations. ‘There is a long line of people who want to work here.’ So employees are abused with low wages for the region's cost of living, which is supported by customers under the selfish guise of keeping the cost of lift ticket prices low (if hundreds of dollars per day can be considered such). For those who are lucky enough to have employee housing, it is often dormitory type housing with roommates. People working different hours, living different lives, crammed into the barest of shelter. Underpaid, under-housed, and overworked. It becomes easier to draw a line between people’s living conditions and the myriad mental health issues these towns are plagued by.  

You're told your entire life that if you find a job you love, you'll never work a day in your life. But what if that job doesn't pay enough to survive, or live any sort of dignified life? Just because you “don't do it for the money” doesn't mean you can do it for free. This economic system has turned labor into a commodity. If you do not hold the means to exploit another person’s body, then you must sell your own. Could patrollers all move to the city and find a different job? Some of them maybe, but so could the owners of these mountain corporations who are allergic to respecting the laborers they so readily exploit. So you’re a CEO or HR manager who doesn’t want to deal with organized labor? Great, no one is asking you to stick around. Unionization isn't just about one patroller, or one department, it's about your colleagues and anyone who might come after you. It’s about more than ski patrol. It’s about building working class solidarity. It’s a recognition that the world moves forward, and everywhere you look, this is driven by exploited labor. 

Back to the vote...

Once the voluntary recognition was declined, Eldora Patrol were expecting to be offered a vote date some time in the second half of December. However, after the petition was submitted (which as per industry standard, would represent full and part-time paid ski patrollers), Eldora Resort made the legal argument that volunteer ski patrollers are employees, compensated through “fringe benefits,” such as free ski passes and vouchers, and that they share an “overwhelming community of interest,” with paid staff. The organizing committee argued against this, as the vast majority of negotiations would be focused around topics such as wages and benefits, which would not be relevant to a volunteer.

To Eldora Patrollers, the motion to include volunteers in the bargaining unit by Eldora, served a double purpose. Firstly, it would delay a vote by what ended up being several months. The dispute meant rather than coming to a ‘stipulated agreement’ – where the employer and union agree to a date, location, and terms of an election – an official hearing must be held with the National Labor Relations Board. Secondly, if they were able to win the argument and get volunteers included in the voting unit, Patrol may have less support from the volunteers than they did from contracted patrollers, therefore watering down votes. Eldora Patrol stated that their decision to not include volunteers was the vast majority of demands will not affect them. According to the CWA, no other ski patrol union is open to volunteers, meaning this demand would also be a nationwide first.

In the world of union-busting, time is the biggest weapon that a corporation can use to weaken any movement. The more the process drags on, support tends to waver, and fear can creep in. This is even more true as seasonal workers, where patroller numbers will be fewer in summer. If Powdr can drag their feet until then and successfully demand a new vote, the proportion of supportive patrollers may be less. It also introduces significant issues for job security, and the threat of not being rehired looms, which as we write this after the conclusion of the season, is a very real possibility. 

In a decision that surprised everyone, the NLRB ruled in this case that volunteers should be considered employees, and that there was enough community of interest that volunteers must be included in a representation vote. Union organizers mentioned that the NLRB may be using this case to set a precedent nationally, that volunteers of organizations are eligible to join unions. After all of this, Eldora Patrol finally received an election date, over five months after the initial petition. When Eldora Patrollers officially had their voices heard – after months of stalling and captive meetings – the final pro-union vote was 29-3. 

Eldora and POWDR to challenge results

And yet, in the face of this unified voice, Eldora and Powder Resorts have officially decided to challenge the results, and are actively seeking to discredit the months of work put in by Eldora. These accusations are serious. They claim Eldora patrol conducted themselves in an illegal manner, using bullying and fear to force patrollers into voting yes for the union. Eldora resort claim that volunteers were excluded on purpose, and the current patrol lied about the benefits of a union. It doesn’t however explain the super-majority of patrollers who voluntarily signed union cards last year. It also isn’t echoed by the CWA who provided advice to the contrary. Eldora patrol were encouraged to spend time speaking only with people who showed an initial interest in unionization, and to leave disinterested people alone. A source at the CWA described Eldora’s approach as ‘scorched earth’, and neither Eldora or Powdr have “any intention of honoring their employees federally protected rights… hoping that their actions will break the spirit of patrollers”. 

On their website, Powdr Corporation are ‘proud to enhance people’s lives’, while building ‘lasting relationships with our communities for generations to come’. Seemingly this good will is not reserved for the people who keep the mountain running. When asked to comment on the rationale for challenging a near-unanimous decision, neither Powdr Corp or Eldora Resort have taken the opportunity to comment. This is the same corporation who won't recognize overtime until 56 hours. The same corporation that does not care about the collective requests of its workforce. The same corporation that is supporting a smear-campaign of Eldora Patrol’s valid election results, and introducing the very real fear of job losses as the season closes.

It is peculiar that Eldora and Powdr are currently weaponizing free labor against paid employees. This is a situation where Eldora is firstly profiting off the labor of unpaid people – a group of people it is now using as a political pawn to disrupt the efforts of their permanent employees. It verifies the adage of “if your boss tells you you don't need a union, you need a union.” What reason does someone have to go through such a Herculean effort, risking job security, if their workplace is a healthy one? It’s a question we’ve put to the resort, and have yet to receive a response.

Unpacking Eldora Resort’s responses

Firstly –  the claims that Eldora have made regarding their ‘support’ for their patrollers – indicate the pure contempt that corporations have for the labor keeping the money rolling in. We don’t think ‘paying above the average’ or ‘offering health insurance after 3 years matters. It’s all inadequate. It all adds to the collective immiseration and precarity of these workers. 

To offer health insurance is not the same as providing it. It is correct for Eldora Resort to say health insurance is offered after three years of employment. A patroller must have completed 700 hours between November 1 st and October 31st to be a qualifying season. This works out to be roughly 30 hours/week for 23 weeks each season – A normal season runs 26 weeks. Any patroller is an injury away from rendering an otherwise full season, technically invalid for consideration. And it shows, the number of people who qualify for insurance is disastrously low. Only 7 of 36 professional patrollers were eligible for health insurance this season. All 29 volunteers – who Eldora succeeded in putting on the ballot due to their ‘shared interests’ – are ineligible for coverage. They are ineligible for support in an industry that requires physical, dangerous work, oftentimes in poor weather conditions. But they have enough ‘shared interests’ to be included in the ballot vote. Where Eldora Resort benefits from this convoluted approach – one set up to ensure they pay the least amount possible – the financial burden on the state taxpayer increases as volunteers look elsewhere for insurance.

And then there’s the ‘competitive’ wages. To state you are near or slightly better than the ‘industry average’ is an omission that you do not pay your workers enough to thrive. Wages in the industry are very low, to the point many patrollers must seek out other forms of income to make ends meet. Competition in this industry is nothing but price fixing but in reverse. These resorts "compete" against the industry, not against the local cost of living. 

At the end of the day…

Anti-unionism is rooted in fear. Fear that through organization, a worker-lead future is actually possible. This future – where the labor that powers these industries has a voice – terrifies boardrooms across the nation. Powdr knows this. The outright disdain shown to their Eldora patrollers is an acceptable price to pay if it means no Powdr resorts are unionized in the future. Eldora Patrol are the spark, and Powdr are the bucket of water standing in their way.

It’s up to everyone who loves our sport to fan the flame.