Marmot Basin staff are organizing to change their relationship with their employer, but a technical issue with their union membership petition has stalled their unionization efforts.
An application to the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) was was filed on behalf of Marmot Basin employees this past spring. According to the application, the 39-worker unit includes staff employed in ski safety operations (ski patrol, snow farming and avalanche control) as well as ski patrol dispatchers.
The union applying to the ALRB on behalf of ski hill staff is Local 401 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). Local 401 represents approximately 32,000 members across Alberta in a broad range of industries and sectors, but mostly those with jobs in retail food sales and production. If the Marmot staffers’ application to the union is accepted, and then the 39 workers vote to unionize, it would constitute the first instance of ski industry employees being represented by UFCW Local 401.
“We represent a lot of hospitality workers [but] this would be our first foray into [the ski industry],” said UFCW Local 401’s executive director, Chris O’Halloran.
But there has been a hang up with the membership petition which the union and the organizing workers have submitted to the ALRB.
The union needs to demonstrate at least 40 per cent of the workers support the unionization efforts, and each worker’s support needs to be verified by a witness. But in the Marmot employees’ electronic petition, an issue with the digital timestamp of the witness’ signature has been flagged. Because of the discrepancy, the validity of the petition can come into question, according to the ALRB.
When UFCW wrote to the board, pressing them to move the process forward despite the technicality, Marmot Basin filed an objection, based on the argument that the witness signatures are invalid. As such, the union and the company are waiting on the results of a board hearing to determine whether the membership petition can be accepted.
“We’re confident we’re going to win, and we’re also confident that the employer hasn’t addressed the issues that the workers had,” O’Halloran said.
O’Halloran is optimistic the board will eventually side in favour of the union, but with the decision in limbo, and the winter’s first snow fall not far away, the stall amounts to a cold, stiff ski boot to start the season in for the ski industry staff who thought they would be unionized by the time chairlifts were spinning.
“We’re confident we’re going to win…but that doesn’t help these workers,” O’Halloran said.
In light of the delays, Local 401 is telling the workers to stay the course.
“It’s illegal to discriminate against someone for being a union supporter,” O’Halloran said. “Our message to workers is that the board will rule in our favour. Stay the course and let’s see this through.”
An email to Marmot Basin requesting a comment on this story was not returned.
Bob Covey // email@example.com