Worker Bees? Put your hands up and be counted 

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I've been wondering this week what the success of Whistler has in common with my old motorcycle. If the parallel between the two, obvious to me, doesn't immediately strike you, perhaps I should explain.

I have a beautiful old motorcycle. How old? Older than the age of the average Whistlerite. It's 37 years old, 38 by the time I get it on the road next summer, assuming I get it on the road next summer. It's a 1976 BMW R/90, for any of you who indulge in trivial detail. It rides like a dream but it hasn't been ridden in almost a decade. Life interrupted, I guess.

Many things have gotten in the way of me pointing it toward the horizon and heading out on the road to nowhere. But the main impediment is sticky — I hope — headset bearings. The last time I cracked it open to pass someone, it developed a terrifying case of the gollywobbles and threatened me with a near-asphalt, 80 mph experience.

Inside the headset are two roller bearings. Servicing them isn't exactly routine maintenance, but it is one of those things inevitably requiring attention. It is also a job that makes you wish you had easy access to a good mechanic since it would take someone skilled a couple of hours as opposed to taking me two days. It's not that I'm completely unskilled, I'm just not a fast worker, nor a slow one... kind of half-fast.

So what does the success of Whistler have in common with my sticky roller bearings? Glad you asked.

My bearings are small; I can hold both in the palm of my hand. They're easily overlooked since so many other moving parts of the bike require more frequent attention. About 99.9 per cent of the time they play an invisible, but vital role in the motorcycle's overall performance. Replacing or repacking them takes time but is easily done for little cost. They get no respect.

In short, they're a lot like employees.

Employees in Whistler get no respect. Oh sure, they get attention. There's the occasional — and seemingly arbitrary — reward for excellence. There may be training; some better, some worse. There's the attention they get when columnists for the Globe and Mail are dissatisfied with the service they receive when they try to cheap-out on a celebratory evening with their wife, and then write about it.

And, of course, there are the platitudes: Our employees are our most valuable resource. Let me be blunt; every time an employee hears an employer say that, or reads it somewhere in the company's mission document, it sounds remarkably like the disembodied voice on the phone telling us what a valued customer we are... but informing us we're going to be on hold for another hour and a half because of unexpectedly high call volume.

The reality of being an employee in Whistler is more like this. Low pay, uncertain hours, increasingly skimpy benefits, if any, limited opportunities for advancement and an overwhelming feeling our employer would be tickled pink if we could be replaced by either technology or a guest worker on a short-term visa.

Stop howling, you employers. I'm generalizing here. Of course there are good employers in Whistler. And of course there are questionable employees. And the exception in both cases may prove the rule. You can write a letter to the editor if you're insulted; she loves being told how completely wrong I am.

There is some small glimmer of hope, however, that the general welfare of Whistler employees is not completely off everyone's radar. At last week's council meeting, during final consideration of the administrative report presenting Whistler's Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI) for passage, Councillor Jack Crompton tossed out a small bomb.



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