A lot has changed in the five years since Roger Falconer last spent a substantial amount of time in Whistler as part of a group of United Steelworkers trying to organize employees at Whistler Mountain.
The Gleaneagle condo on the first fairway of the Chateau Whistler Golf Course, which now serves as the Steelworkers headquarters for the latest round of union activity, wasn't even built then. The Chateau Whistler Golf Course was an 18-hole gleam in the eye of Robert Trent Jones Jr. and employees at Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains were non-unionized.
And although a lot has changed physically in the valley the political climate and what Falconer calls the "desire to get a better lot for employees" in Whistler has not changed one iota — so he's back.
"None of this existed five years ago," Falconer says. "There's a tremendous investment in business and property, but there's no investment in the employees. Whistler has grown and Whistler's problems have grown."
The problems, according to Falconer, include lack of low-cost housing for employees, lack of an employee support network and unfair seniority policies dealing with re-hiring. He says the argument that a union is going to price Whistler out of the ski resort market is a fallacy, as the aim of union organizers is to make Whistler more healthy, wealthy and wise.
Laptop computers and modem equipment sit on the dining room table of the condo turned recruitment centre and the coffee is brewing — these guys have done this before. Their Steelworker hotline is equipped with a call tracing function which instantly reveals where the last call originated.
"You have to be ready for anything," Falconer says. "We get all kinds of strange and weird calls."
The union drive on Whistler Mountain five years ago fell short of certification when the Industrial Relations Council ruled the bargaining unit was inappropriate. This year the Steelworkers have a well-defined bargaining unit that includes all employees of Whistler and Blackcomb except supervisors and those with ranks above supervisor, office employees and sales people.
"As trade unionists we are in the service sector, we have to serve the needs of our members," Falconer says. "Our aim is not to put Whistler under any financial strain, that would be damaging to us. The people that come here from Japan, Korea and Europe and plan their trips three months in advance, they don't give a shit whether it's union or non-union they come here for the skiing, the service and the atmosphere."
Fellow Steelworker organizer Mike Piche says the first prong of the campaign has been completed through a mass mail-out and a team of 10 full-time union organizers are new scouring the valley with pockets full of union cards. He says they are there to talk to employees, inform them about what the Steelworkers have to offer.
"We have committed to the campaign here, we have the equipment and the human resources to carry out a lengthy certification drive if we have to," Piche says.
According to Piche, "inside committees" of Whistler and Blackcomb employees volunteering for the union drive have already been struck and organizers are conducting an information campaign throughout the valley — on the streets and door-to-door. If 55 per cent of employees at Whistler or Blackcomb sign union cards, the Steelworkers will apply to the provincial Labour Board
Piche says the key message they are trying to get across is if certified, the union will be controlled locally.
Falconer says the employment conditions in Whistler are very conducive to labour organizers and if the Steelworkers don't get ratified, someone else just might.
"If we aren't successful this year, we'll be back next year and if we're not successful then, we'll be back the year after that," Falconer says. "There's no doubt in my mind that trade unions are in Whistler for the duration."
Meanwhile at Red Mountain Resort in Rossland, where the Steelworkers have been certified for the last decade, a mountain manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says the ski resort business is a funny one for unions to operate in.
"The bottom line is having unionized staff really cuts into the bottom line," the official says. "At the end of they year you don't have as much cash left to invest back into the infrastructure of the hill."
He says many employees at Red Mountain, mostly young people looking for short-term employment and ski passes don't have a keen interest in being union members. First-year liftees at Red Mountain get $7.25 an hour to start.
"This whole (ski resort) business doesn't lend itself to unionization. But, if bigger areas like Whistler and Blackcomb start to go union, it could start some type of movement in this business, the results of which may not be fun to predict."