Annual union drive on
Is Whistler really a union town?
For the last several winters union recruiters have rolled into Whistler in an attempt to organize local hotel and restaurant employees.
And each winter a couple more hotels become union shops. In the meantime, managers of non-union hotels are looking over their shoulders for recruiters, providing employees with answers to questions and waiting for the next union push.
But is Whistler a union town?
Ask recruiters from the Canadian Auto Workers Union and the United Steelworkers of America and they will say yes. Ask private entrepreneurs who used to be involved with unions and you will get a wholehearted no. Ask employees recently unionized and you might get an ambiguous maybe.
"Whistler is a community unlike any other, people move here to work and ski and the beauty of the resort is the flexibility of employers and employees. When the unions come in that flexibility is gone," says Heather Rondeau, head of the recently resurrected Whistler's Not So Silent Majority. NSSM is a citizen's advocacy group designed to provide fair, accurate information to employees as they are being lobbied by unions.
Rondeau, who has been a union member in the past, says Whistler is not, and should not be a union town. Unions, she says, have their roots in urban centres and are not familiar with the special arrangements often made between employers and employees in Whistler.
Both the CAW and United Steelworkers of America have been actively lobbying Whistler hotel and restaurant employees in this year's edition of the annual membership drive. Two weeks ago, 80 housekeeping employees at Powder Property Management signed on with the Canadian Auto Workers Local 3000.
After an intense lobbying effort last winter, employees at the Tantalus Lodge, the Whistler Fairways Hotel and Resort, the Mountainside Lodge and the Listel Whistler Hotel joined the CAW.
Most of the membership drives are being directed at housekeeping staff, many of whom are residents of Squamish — definitely a union town. With Squamish's deep seeded roots in the pulp and timber industry, union organizations have a long history in the mostly blue collar town.
Rondeau says union recruiters are well aware of Squamish's union history and are willing to exploit those ties in Whistler. "It's interesting that the union organizers are targeting their drives at the Squamish residents and then Whistler businesses have to pay for it," Rondeau says.
While many of the hotels which are going union are small to medium sized operations, Whistler's largest hotels — the Delta Whistler Resort and the Chateau Whistler Resort — have been able to stave off numerous union drives within their own hallways.
Generous benefit packages tailored to the Whistler employee, competitive wages and a good working relationship with staff members have all combined to help employees at both the Chateau and the Delta decide not to sign union cards when the recruiter comes knocking.
"We are aware of the union activity in the village and some of our employees have been approached while working on our floors this week," says Jayne Lloyd-Jones director of public relations for the Chateau Whistler Resort, adding they are aware it is the United Steelworkers of America that is holding a recruitment drive at the Chateau. Mike Pichet is the United Steelworkers recruiter, but when Pique called his room at the Delta Whistler Resort on Tuesday he had already checked out.
Lloyd-Jones says employers are often put in a tough predicament when union lobbyists are active in their hotels because labour laws don't allow mangers to communicate pros and cons of unionization to employees unless they are asked.
"We encourage our employees to come to their own decision on the issue of unions and we don't intend to force anything on anyone," she says.
Over at the Delta Whistler Resort, Sabine Bell, a human resources assistant, says union lobbyists have been busy at the Delta this winter as well.
"We really don't know how far along any union drive is because that information is not known to anyone but the union," Bell says.
According to Bell, larger hotels like the Delta are better equipped to communicate with employees on the unionization issue.
"We are very aware of what we can and cannot do when it comes to union campaigns," she says. "We try to answer every question asked by our employees when they come to us."
A strong working relationship tailored to the Whistler atmosphere and lifestyle also helps make unionization not overly attractive to employees, Bell says.
"You have to have a happy staff, and we do our best to ensure all our staff are kept happy and all of their questions are answered," Bell says.