Workers concerned over ORDA

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To The Editor:
We, the employees of Belleayre Mountain Ski Center would like you to reprint the enclosed article, which initially appeared in the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) Newsletter entitled, “The Workforce,” written by Therese Assalian, with her permission. Editor’s note: the article follows this letter.

Everyone seems to have the opinion that the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) is going to take over operation of Belleayre and “save” us but whoever knows is not saying anything and worse, is not telling us what it will mean if it does.

In the 1970s and ’80s Belleayre administration kept track of everyone’s length of employment and laid people off just before they had completed nine months, which is the length of time needed to receive full benefits. After a two-week layoff they were offered their job back. According to the CSEA article, it sounds like ORDA is doing the same thing now.

When Belleayre employees were allowed to remain working all year, full time, they did not become full time benefit “permanent” employees after one year like other New York State employees. Instead we became “Long Term Seasonal” which meant we got a new appointment letter every six months and did not get the raises other state employees got.

We took a job here so we could stay in the area and have health insurance and some sort of retirement even though the pay was poor. We do not feel we are the bad guys because we still have health insurance in a bad economy. That was part of the deal.

We fought for, and finally got “permanent” status in 2007 but we got no seniority time for all the previous years of employment. When Gov. Paterson ordered layoffs, we were among the ones to go because we only had three years of seniority even though we had worked from two to more than 20 years more than that.

We were laid off on December 31, 2010 and offered “seasonal” jobs on January 1, 2011 with a cut in pay and a 20 percent cut in hours. The 48 previously “permanent” employees lost between $5,000 and $17,000 this past year. Anyone hired since 2005 has never had an opportunity to become more than an 80 percent seasonal employee.

We can barely afford to pay our bills now. We have an ongoing legal action that is attempting to secure the return to permanent status of the affected employees but 24 of the 48 employees laid off` and rehired as seasonal have already had to leave for better paying jobs. If we are cut any more, no one will be able to afford to stay.

If you are concerned with the future of Belleayre Ski Center or if you would just like to help us out, please call/write/e-mail your legislators and the governor. Is it really too much to ask that we, the ones most affected, have someone to listen to our concerns, tell us what is going to happen and let us know whether we need to start looking for new jobs.

Jeffrey Tubbs,
Belleayre employee
Andes

“Authority’s disrespect sends contract talks downhill.
CSEA represented Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) workers can’t be blamed for feeling like they are living in a parallel universe.
On one side, they operate and maintain the renowned Whiteface and Gore Mountain ski centers and other North Country venues that played home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic games in Lake Placid.

But on the other side, ORDA workers have been without a contract for almost three years and are fighting for fairness and respect.

The pay is low, with many workers living at or near poverty levels. A ticket clerk at Gore earns $7.93 per hour and the highest paid people on the mountain earn around $17 per hour.
Benefits can be hard to come by, too. As with many seasonal operations, staff can be let go in the spring with no guarantee of being hired back. With a nine-month wait for benefits to kick in, workers at Gore report a troubling pattern of layoffs just before benefits would have started.

Workers “fed up”
Doug Smith, a trail department supervisor at Gore, left behind a construction career and took a 25 percent pay cut for what he thought would be decent pay and benefits. He made about $14 an hour when he started 10 years ago. Today he earns $16.83.

“I don’t know how workers with families do it,” he said.
Fed up workers are leaving. “They gave up on ORDA,” said Matt Allen, Gore Mountain local president.

When subcontractors come to work at the venues, they are paid prevailing wage, making more money than the qualified staff working alongside them. “You can’t find a qualified equipment operator to work for $10 an hour. They’ll laugh at you,” said Smith.

Not spending on workers
The few remaining longtime workers say that working conditions began deteriorating in 1984, when ORDA was formed after breaking from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Right off the bat, there was a 40 percent drop in the pay scale and a substantial reduction in leave accruals.

These factors are contrasted with the capital that ORDA directs everywhere but toward its own employees. The spending includes a $20 millions conference center in Lake Placid, sponsorships of the Empire State Winter Games and other promotions to drive tourism traffic, improvements and expansion at both mountains including new trail systems, new lifts, new snow-cats to both fleets and state-of-the-art automated snowmaking systems.

“It’s fine to have the mountain grow, but you have to take the people with you,” Allen said.
There have been other costly mistakes and questionable expenditures, like new snowmaking pumps sitting unused in a warehouse because they don’t fit, and the fancy biometric time clocks that scan employees’ fingerprints to keep closer tabs on workers at a cost of $200,000.

ORDA CEO and President Ted Blazer earns almost $200,000 annually with a generous benefit package. ORDA board members own businesses, hotels, a golf club and a marina that all profit from the operations and attractions in Lake Placid and North Creek, where Gore is located. Things are going very well for them and not so well for ORDA workers.

“ORDA management continues to show zero respect for workers,” said CSEA Capital Region President Kathy Garrison. “CSEA members can show their support for ORDA workers by calling ORDA boss Ted Blazer at 518 302-5301 and telling him to give workers a fair contract now!’”
— Therese Assalian