for those in the snow

Speak up and get fired

Aspen, the rich man’s skiing paradise in the heart of Colorado.  So what about the poor people?

While cashed up Fortune 500s are paying the big bucks for private ski instructors it seems the instructors aren’t reaping the rewards.

One Aspen ski instructor, Lee Mulcahy, was suspended last December for staging a protest against ski instructor wages. An all day private lesson costs US$625 but according to Mulcahy the lowest level instructor gets $69 in wages.

We all know the pay system in America relies on the general public to provide the wages.   They call it ‘tipping’ I call it a lack of employer responsibility.  I’ve written about this for the Sydney Morning Herald before.

Cloak girls in peak season in a ski town can earn US$900 a night in tips and it’s cash in hand as they’re not even on the payroll because the restaurant doesn’t give them any wages.

But not so lucky for the ski instructor. An average tip for a $625 lesson would be 15% or US$93.75.  But ski towns have their own tipping economy and Aspen usually spits at anything less than 20%.

So even the lowest paid level one instructor would still get $194 including $69 wages and 20% tip on $625 (which isn’t taxed).  Oh and they get lunch, as etiquette says the client buys the instructor lunch and then shouts them drinks at the end of the day.

That works out to be US$32 an hour for a six hour private lesson.  More if you’re one of the top level instructors. I don’t know what they get paid in Aspen but in other US states it’s around $180 in wages for a private lesson costing $730, plus tip.

This works out to be 24% of the retail price and if you add a 20% tip then $326 a day (not bad) or 44% of the full retail cost. But again the customer is expected to provide half the wages to ensure the instructor can feed and clothe themselves while the ski company rakes in the cash.

Now I’m not saying it’s a good wage but we all know ski instructing is a lifestyle choice that comes with seasonal work that’s not always guaranteed. Then there’s the expenses of living in a town geared for the tourist dollar, a dollar you’re not making.

In some ski areas of New Zealand the ski instructors automatically get paid around 40% of the retail value of private instruction and they get paid by the ski company. It is guaranteed money that doesn’t rely on tips in a country where tipping is optional.

But even there it’s not working in the favour of the long term employees who have watched it drop from an original estimated fee of 55% four years ago to around 40% and stay there, despite lesson prices going up.

But back to Aspen.  Lee allegedly handed out protest flyers around Aspen Snowmass, slipping unsolicited flyers under guest room doors of the swanky Little Nell.  Elle Macpherson, Tiger Woods and Ivana Trump call the Nell home when in town and allegedly put them on car windows including the company Audis.  He wrote a letter to the Aspen Times about $10 an hour wages.

After three weeks suspension he’s now been fired and his protests have made the Huffington Post where he ‘claims’ he didn’t know about the dismissal.

But wait, there’s more….like every story there is two sides.  The Aspen Skiing Company cite various recorded misdemeanours for Lee Mulcahy in a letter to the editor of The Aspen Time.  It is worth reading before you make your own mind up.

Peaceful protest?  Genuine protest? Right thing to do or bloody idiot? Sour grapes?  I’m not au fait with the amendments and constitution that Americans drag out to justify their use of firearms and the like but I suspect there is something about freedom of speech.

But in the land of libel, surely freedom of speech only ends in the court.

What do you think?

Photo credit: The Aspen Times

3 Responses to “Speak up and get fired”

  1. Ozzie Tripper

    The difference between a canoe and an Australian is that the canoe tips. I reckon it’s about time THEY started paying a proper wage and gave proper conditions to the employees. I have asked taxi drivers, waiters, hairdressers etc when they last tipped a policeman or a teacher or garbage collector all of whom are (probably) underpaid too. I get the tired old “we don’t get paid much” Bull S**t and point out that it’s not my problem. More strength to Lee’s arm in his fight against the entrenched tax free underpayment system which really suits the employers

  2. anon for good reason

    I was until recently an instructor in new Zealand. Not only was the pay not a ‘living wage’ but the SSS managers treated me like dirt. I took a complaint to them about their conduct towards me and got more bull treatment during that meeting. They wouldn’t let me leave to get a witness or a recording device as is my legal right. Following this I told them I was walking out of the meeting to get my letter of resignation from my locker, the response to this was ‘don’t worry about that anymore, we’re letting you go.’ In other words they fired me for quitting.
    It is an unfortunate trend in the industry that we the workers are treated like filth and all the free lift passes in the world cannot make up for that.
    Because new Zealand is such a small place and all the mountains tend to talk I’ll never get another job as an instructor again in my own country. And all because it looks better for their reputation to say ‘we had to fire that one’ rather than ‘that one quit because they were unhappy here’
    Its high time the ski industry took a stand against the old boys network mindset of fields.


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