Living & Working in Great Places
I'd like to hear from anyone with experience working at Togwotee Mountain Lodge, what your experience was like. I'm considering a job there this summer.
What is the employee housing like? I've had one good experience with that, and one horrific one. When they don't show you photos up front of the housing, it worries me after that bad experience.
How are employees treated? Are you able to save any money on such low pay in an untipped job?
I won't have a car — do people share rides to go shopping and stuff? There's no shuttle in the summer.
Please share away!
The employee housing in 2007, when I investigated a job there but didn't wind up accepting the assignment, appeared to me to be about average--it was employee dorm housing, with some 4-to-a-room with bunks, and some small closetlike rooms with two beds. The walls seemed kind of thin. I think you have to assume, in this kind of job, that the housing will be closer to "horrific" than "good"--it goes with the territory. You also can't really find out ahead of time, as HR/others at the company won't give you a straight answer, and message boards such as this aren't reliable as people's opinions are tuned to their personal preferences--one person may have just spent the last few years (college) in a communal living situation with people who were drunk 80% of the time, and thus regard living in a seasonal-job dorm as the height of peace, quiet, and luxury, while another may have been living with/around considerate people who don't play music at 1 in the morning or puke all over the bathroom walls, and thus regard the seasonal living experience as imported directly from hell. So you need to see where you'd be living, and even then, your roommates are the wild card--they can make your stay pleasant or awful. So, it's pretty much a crapshoot.
Pretty much expect to be treated as a moronic warm body until you demonstrate otherwise. The good news is, once you do demonstrate that you can spell, count, and write, and that you show up on time and sober, you will be treated decently and maybe even offered advancement in the company, as by demonstrating the aforementioned qualities, you will show yourself to be head and shoulders above the vast majority of seasonal staff. This is true anywhere, but even more so in a relatively small organization.
You'll be paid Wyoming minimum wage. There will be deductions for food and housing. Don't expect, therefore, to have saved much money by the end of the season. A lot of seasonal employers make this explicit up front--"don't come here for financial gain" is the way they put it, or some such. While you (and I) might expect to be paid decently for hard work, the fact of the matter is that you are expected to be paid mostly in scenery. There's enough people willing to be compensated that way that seasonal employers can get away with paying the legal minimum. Plus, many employees are college kids who don't understand the value of money, and mommy and daddy are paying for everything during the school year anyway. So clearing about $4/hr after deductions doesn't faze them.
The greatest caveat would be, I think, that Togwotee isn't a great location to not have a car. You're near a LOT of extremely cool stuff--GTNP, Yellowstone, the town of Jackson, etc.--but not close enough to get to those places without your own transportation. While Togwotee and its surroundings are nice in and of themselves, I think it would be very frustrating to be isolated there. And yes, you can hitch rides and so forth, but that's pretty unreliable.
There are people on this site who work for these companies who consider it their job to jump down the throat of anyone who points out the negative aspects of seasonal work. But since the positive aspects are obvious--i.e., the settings, the activities available--it's important to know going in, as much as is possible, what you'll be dealing with. I've had a couple of situations where I traveled to my place of work ahead of time, toured the employee housing and EDR, and left, laughing. I think the best approach is to consider your acceptance of any job tentative, and conditional upon your inspecting the living, eating, and working conditions. Consider your employer to be on probation, in other words, just as they consider you to be.
Thanks. This is what I was concerned about, and I agree about having the employer on probation. The wage offered is not minimum, since there is experience. Still, it's $4 an hour less than I made at other seasonal work. (The good experience.)
I'm not able to go and check it out in person, but not having a car seems like a real issue. Getting there will cost a lot of money in travel — and this sounds like quite a crap shoot for that amount of money and risk.
There are some parks, or at least some areas within the parks, where not having a car isn't as much of an issue. I'd say the Yellowstone/Grand Teton area pretty much mandates having a car, as the parks are immense, and it's a long way to the bordering towns if you need to do some personal shopping (expensive, and sometimes impossible inside the parks). One possibility would be to work in Glacier at a location along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, where there are frequent free shuttles to destination points for hiking, etc. If you work on the west side, there are transportation options into Columbia Falls and Kalispell. Another option would be Yosemite valley with its free shuttle system and decent transportation (YARTS) to cities to the west.
Also, as you say, not having a car kind of raises the stakes in that it's never cheap to travel to one of these places, and if you find out the job is unsuitable (for whatever reason), you're out not only the cost of getting there, but of returning. That's why I've been advocating for full disclosure of working and living conditions, if not from the employers (that's never gonna happen), then from former/current employees who can frankly share their experiences.
All that said, I do think that simply being in these places is worth tolerating a certain amount of employer abuse (and evidently, many people think so, too), but there have been times when I have said, I love this place, but I hate this job, so I determined to return next year with a car full of Costco food and a tent and sleeping bag and stay there on my own dime, unemployed but with all the free time that unemployment brings :) Again, having a car makes all the difference in a seasonal job--even if things like shuttles are available, it's a lot easier to drive yourself to that trailhead or awesome fishing hole.
Thank you, Kevin. Really valuable feedback. Togwotee is 50 miles from Jackson alone, so is pretty remote to be captive on the property for the season. I agree on that full disclosure of living conditions. Especially in a place so remote there are no options besides employee housing. Resort conditions for guests and substandard, horrid housing for employees is a throwback to plantation slave conditions, which some corporations seem to think is just fine.
I've been constantly amazed at the reactions I get on this site when I state (or imply) that. You'd think I had insulted somebody's mother.
Any improvement in living and working conditions--for the last two centuries--has only come about because someone had the courage to speak up (and possibly lose his job/livelihood as a result). I have had and continue to have the opinion--which I feel is well-founded and equally importantly, that I'm entitled to have and to express--that the living conditions offered by many resort employers are a disgrace. I think that if there are no other housing options, the housing should be at least the quality of studio apartments (as in, offering PRIVACY) with shared bathrooms being OK, AND...(drum roll, please) they should be offered to employees free of charge. Why, I can hear the squawking Coolworks birds ask? Simple. Living and working in an isolated setting where there is no housing is a hardship. The employer imposes that hardship on its employees. Therefore handling that hardship---by providing decent housing--should be part of the compensation. Not to mention the fact that employees often travel huge distances at their own expense to get to these minimum-wage jobs.
A major clue to just how unsatisfactory many employee living and working conditions are is that many companies hold job fairs in places like Moldavia, Turkey, Serbia, Chile, etc. etc. If the magnificent surroundings and recreational opportunities aren't enough to attract (and RETAIN) a sufficient portion of college kids and teenagers from the US (older employees often come in an RV), then you have to ask yourself, are the living and working conditions so bad as to discourage them? (And Katya and Igor from Romania aren't likely to quit no matter what, since they don't get a return plane ticket unless they finish out the season.)
Part of the reason that employee housing is often substandard is the nature of the park concessionaire contract system. They get 10- to 20-year contracts, during which there is virtually no oversight of what they do and no sanctions for malperformance, and the contracts are by no means guaranteed to be renewed, so for the last few years of a contract, many companies perform very little maintenance, especially on non-revenue-producing infrastructure such as employee housing. The history of park concessionaires is a sad tale of malfeasance and fraud--the National Park Service has failed in its mission in that regard. (An older example is the concessioner at the Grand Canyon South Rim who erected a gate at the top of the Bright Angel trail and charged tolls for over ten years--though he had no right of ownership nor right to control passage.)
Employers who are an exception to the rule--Signal Mountain Lodge is a standout in this regard, as they provide excellent conditions for their employees and really go the extra mile to ensure they have a good experience--are highly sought after and as a result, it's hard to find a job with them. Conversely, if there are always many vacancies at a given locale with a given employer--even in midseason--you have to ask yourself why.
One of the best, well expressed, solid, grounded in fact and the history thereof — replies, that I have seen on the topic. You should write a book, or at least an in-depth article about this for a major news outlet. Or get someplace like Dateline to do an investigative report. Thanks much. Yes, when they are over-eager to hire a warm body mid-season you do indeed have to ask yourself why. Third world conditions for employees . . . it should be no surprise that some of these corporations then GO to the third world to recruit, and exploit, workers. That is truly deplorable. Your information about the concessionaire contract system explains a lot — systemic greed and systemic neglect.