Mike Walsh | Powder Report: Preaching context in face of outrage towards Jiminy Peak
It's been a little over two weeks since Jiminy Peak was blanketed in the wrong kind of winter storm.
I'm packing up for a spoice roadie up to Stratton, Bromley and Magic Mountain this weekend, and while I try and figure out what to feed a horde of shredded-out buddies for breakfast in an AirBNB kitchen, I've got some thoughts.
Because of this column and everything it celebrates, I've been asked a handful of times over the past couple of weeks for my thoughts on the "All Employees" letter posted somewhere on Jiminy's campus the week of a big mid-January snow storm [Martin Luther King weekend], the ensuing fallout, responses and the re-dredging up of the child labor violations of last summer.
Before I dive switch nose first into this mogul field of a situation, some background on this particular grommet's upbringing and background.
While I've never worked at a ski resort, I have spent 10-plus years of my life in the hospitality business, mostly waiting tables and tending bar. A lengthy stretch of that came at a restaurant inside a major hotel and convention center. I will also say that over the past few years of working in Berkshire County, Jiminy Peak has been very good to the Powder Report with communication and information for stories. While my writing career was in flux before joining The Berkshire Eagle, I went through the application and interview process for a part-time job at Jiminy, though I did not ultimately choose to follow through with employment there.
When my wife and I needed lodging for the 100-plus guests of our wedding at Bloom Meadows last April, Tracy Grant and the team at Jiminy were immensely helpful, despite us opting to have our ceremony and reception elsewhere.
I'm also a recently-turned-30-year-old millennial who works in the media and own all the baggage anyone's perception of me may be.
With all that said, I'm going to try and approach this subject as objectively as possible.
The letter, shared around social media to the point of a full viral craze, was pretty awful.
But, I want to urge something the internet's horrid mob mentality can never grasp; context matters.
To start, the first paragraph of the letter was actually quite normal and completely fine. Giving employees advanced notice to an impending storm, while pleading with them to plan ahead in making every effort to be at work, is perfectly rational. If one chooses to take on seasonal employment at a ski resort, there should be some expectation that driving in inclement weather is going to be part of the job description.
Now, however, is where things go off the common sense trails and yard sale all over the page.
A State of Emergency is just that. It is a statement. A warning that the roads are dangerous and a plea for people without reason to not drive. The exempt part is ridiculous, though, and that a person in a position of power would put that on likely younger employees beneath him or her is a bit mind-boggling.
To play devil's advocate, though, I've experienced the relationship dynamics behind the scenes in the hospitality industry first hand, and some times that's just the way employees and management speak to each other. If you've ever seen the movie "Waiting," it can honestly be like that at some points. There is also a case to be made for things like tough love.
Some of the people who have had the greatest influence on me in my professional life are managers and owners I've worked under in the hospitality industry. They didn't have the time or patience for my shenanigans, tomfoolery or lack of a work ethic. But by working my butt off for them and earning respect, I developed all the skills that make me a far better adult.
The final paragraph of the letter is an epic wipeout that set off internet outrage from Boston to Chicago and beyond. It almost reads as parody, the bad guy you hate in a Hallmark Christmas movie, who pushes away the lovable employees.
Shortly after the immense online backlash besieged Jiminy, resort president Tyler Fairbank posted an apology to the Jiminy Peak Facebook page, which currently has 276 likes and 976 comments. Not a great ratio.
"We've been made aware of a message posted in our concessionaire's employee area and apologize to all for its content as it does not represent the tone or concern that we have at Jiminy, for our employees as well as our guests," wrote Fairbank.
The apology was certainly necessary, as was the explanation that this rogue memo was not approved and posted by Jiminy Peak itself. The explanation here I'm choosing to view less as a ducking of responsibility, as many of those comments shout, but more as what makes this far less than a stock, form apology letter.
It's hard to envision a good way to come back from the original letter, and even harder to imagine what the pound of flesh the pitchfork-and-torch folk would look like. Contrition is difficult, and explaining the inner-workings of a massive company with multiple mountains, contractors, etc I can't even fathom.
Does Fairbank use some five-dollar words that may not have been totally necessary? Sure.
Is the buck passed off or at least deflected onto a "concessionaire" or even the Governor? Maybe a bit.
Should that manager of John Harvard's face some form of punishment? For sure, but not for the sheer optics of it. Everyone is the employee of someone, and the management of this manager should definitely review the role and title of "Mark."
The Child Labor Violations
I'll occasionally take a peak at the internet click stats of our website, and a few days after all this went down, a number smacked me in the face like an unwanted snowgun. Whoa, the site has that much traffic right now, I gaped.
Well the reason I was given was likely Tony Dobrowolski's story on the child labor violations Jiminy was charged with. The story ran on Aug. 20, 2018, with Fairbank interviewed and relaying that all of the infractions involved hours violations, not minors working at hazardous jobs.
"We're not running a sweat shop out here," Fairbank said at the time.
In my opinion, that was him staring agape at the online onslaught on the horizon. Child Labor Violations sound atrocious, but context matters.
in context, Jiminy is one of the biggest employers in the area, and a lot of those jobs are seasonal and held by teenagers. The rules governing how often students can work, and for how long, are very strict and stringent.
Fairbank claims many of the violations come when kids forget to clock out after work, before going to do something that should be done on their own time.
That may be the case, but kids need money more than ever these days. Many are saving for the obscene college rates likely in their near future, and when your high school job is only open less than half of the calendar year, I could fully see myself pushing for more hours here and there and trying to milk that paycheck for every last dime.
Look, the letter posted during a snowstorm was pretty rough. And the reaction is understandable given how riled up folks get about storms in a 24-hour news cycle.
But, remember, Jiminy Peak does a lot of good for Berkshire County, beyond being a place to carve up Old Man Winter's offerings. It provides employment opportunities, particularly to youths. Jiminy also does an incredibly amount of good for our environment as leaders in a more sustainable approach to shredding.
So, before the term boycott gets tossed around, take a breath, find your spoice, and remember that context has to matter.
Until next time, keep your tips up and stay spoice.
Mike Walsh is an urchin snowboarder who can be reached at email@example.com or in the local lift line.
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