Union: Back those that will keep Highlands Links employees

The union that represents the workers at Highlands Links wants the government to make potential operators who will offer jobs to the maintenance crew, according to the Chronicle-Herald:

Parks Canada said on Aug. 23 that it would be seeking a private operator for the golf course, ranked sixth in Canada on ScoreGolf’s best-in-the-country list.

Employees were sent letters telling them about the move at that time, said Chip Bird, Parks Canada’s field unit superintendent in Cape Breton.

Kennedy said the move to a private operator has put the workers, who include customer service staff, marshals and maintenance workers, in a “holding pattern.”

“It lets them know that there’s potential that their jobs will be disappearing, but that they’re not yet actually surplus.”

He said the union’s “initial default position” is that it wants Parks Canada to continue running the course.

The union is also trying to convince the government to give a higher ranking to bidders who say they will hire existing employees.

It is too early to say what might happen with the employees, Bird said. The request for proposals should be out later this month, he said, and close at the end of October or mid-November.

If a private operator doesn’t hire them, Bird said the employees would have priority status for other Parks Canada jobs in Cape Breton and elsewhere in Canada. He said he knows vacancies are coming up.

There are three year-round unionized employees and 19 seasonal workers, Bird said.

The government says the course lost up to $500,000 in each of the past few years, which begs the question why would anyone be interested in it? Some of that depends on the RFP, which comes out on Friday. Interestingly, the story says there are 19 full-time staff making an an average of $20.50 an hour. That would bring the labour cost of the maintenance budget to more than $800,000. It says even course marshals are paid union wages.

It is a credit to the staff that they’ve supported the restoration plan promoted by GM Graham Hudson. All accounts have had the staff very involved in the restoration. The bunker portion of the restoration is now nearly complete. However, any operator would surely have questions about tees and drainage, suggesting the government might have to invest additional funds to finish fairway drainage and reconstruct tees.

As for which companies might be interested, Cabot Links owner Mike Keiser told me he might be interested. Cabot managing partner Ben Cowan-Dewar said they’ll wait to see the RFP, which apparently comes out later this week.

Interestingly, for those wondering, the hotel has been connected to the province of Nova Scotia, but is still part of the federal government, which is why Keltic Lodge is part of the RFP.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Robert
    This probably comes at the worst possible time. Unions are in retreat. The federal budget is in retreat mode. The public are not interested in the “frills for the rich” that golf represents.
    It would be nice to think that a private operator would come in and rescue the course – and the hotel – but never again would it really be accessible to the average Canadian.

  • With this post starting with “Union” I thought it was going to be about the St Thomas Golf Club!

    Why would private operators make the course less accessible to the average Canadian? Cabot Links is privately operated (although it did receive government grants) and it has green fees that are not materially more than HL. Banff and Jasper are privately operated and although they are more expensive they have specials that bring fees down to the $100-$150 range – which is pretty much the full rate for HL today.

    When it comes to government subsidies I would rather have them going to things like health care, education and providing food for hungry Canadian children than subsidizing golf vacations at Keltic Lodge/Highalnd Links. I am a keen golfer and I think that Highland Links is a great course but I think that the private sector should be brought in to run the place and that as golfers we should pay our own way.

    Can you expand on the Federal government’s role in operating Keltic Lodge? Keltic seems to be part of a three resort group run by the NS government. What about the other two resorts, are they being privatized as well?

  • Wayne: The other two resorts (I assume you’re referring to Digby and ???) are also in the same boat. Apparently the province has a deal to operate Keltic, but ownership stays with the feds — makes sense since it is in a national park.

  • I believe in the case of jasper and banff, the locals can get a reduced rate. I heard the same at kananaskis. no reason they cannot offer the same at highland links.
    St andrews and bethpage are another two examples. Correct me if I am wrong..

    Turn it over to private management for 5 years and see how it goes. With proper management and promotion, it can likely make some money. The union issue should be resolved before it is offered. If I was investing, I would want the province to take responsibility for the unionized employees. Either move them or buy them out. Likely costs less them 6 months of loses. They will lose their jobs if the course closes so why tie the hands of the private management firm by strapping them with A union.
    Many investors will not take on unionized employees for a variety of reasons, so deal with it so the province can get more potential investors involved.

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