The snowstorm earlier this week brought down hundreds of oak and cedar trees near Half Dome Village in Yosemite Valley, damaging as many as 50 employee housing structures and displacing more than 160 Aramark employees.
No one was injured during the storm, evacuations, and a fire caused by downed power lines, and displaced employees have been staying in rooms at Yosemite Valley Lodge. Some displaced employees lost all their belongings in the fire.
Many Aramark employees and people who know them are outraged at the way they say displaced workers have been treated this week, and they have taken to social media to vent about what one individual called an emergency, and to seek donations to help their co-workers.
“One hundred sixty-eight employees are displaced because trees fell on the cabins,” Foresta resident Noreen Trombley, said Friday morning in a phone interview. She said she intended to go see “the mess over at Curry Village” today and she’s heard there are concerns about where displaced employees are being housed and fed.
The employee housing crisis unfolding in Yosemite Valley this week comes on the heels of the month-long partial federal government shutdown in January and December. Many Aramark employees were furloughed or unable to work as demand for visitor services decreased during the shutdown, and some say they are close to running out of money. It’s unclear if any Aramark employees have received backpay for the month they were unable to work during the shutdown.
David Freireich, Aramark corporate communications spokesperson, acknowledged the storm damage.
“We’re working to identify and provide temporary accommodations within the park for impacted employees, until we determine it’s safe for them to return home. Safety is our top priority and we are doing everything we can to assist them,” he said
Asked about employees’ claims that they are being moved out of Yosemite Valley Lodge to make room for paying guests this weekend, and that some have depleted their savings during the recent, month-long federal shutdown, and now some have lost their belongings in the fire, Freirich responded, “Unfortunately, Yosemite has experienced a series of unprecedented events -- fire, shutdown and snowstorm. We understand our employees’ frustration and we’re doing everything we can to provide assistance and comfort.”
National Park Service communications staff did not respond to requests for comment.
In social media posts and via text messages to The Union Democrat, former and current Aramark employees said snow-loaded trees began falling Monday and early Tuesday in the densely packed cabin and tent community for employees called HUFF, for Housing Under Firefall, near the base of the soaring granite apron that comes off Glacier Point.
“Employee tents and WOBs located in HUFF and the stables were damaged over the course of the last storm,” a current Aramark employee said in a text message. “The weight of the snow caused trees and branches to fall smashing various structures. Fifty structures were damaged near Half Dome Village, previously named Curry Village. Power lines fell and started a fire, burning three structures as well.”
Evacuations were ordered, people were told to stay inside hard-sided structures and no injuries occurred, according to employee and Yosemite Fire and Aviation accounts. The downed power lines sparked the fire in darkness before sunrise Tuesday, and firefighters worked in 2 feet of snow with 450 feet of hose lays and broken trees everywhere.
The current Aramark employee shared the information on condition of anonymity because she, like other Aramark employees, has been told if she speaks to news media she will lose her job. She said displaced Aramark employees staying at Yosemite Valley Lodge are going to be relocated today to make room for incoming guests.
Just before 11 a.m. Friday, a Yosemite Valley resident named Dakota Snider, who has said he can’t speak to media, posted to Facebook a message that stated,
“PUBLIC: We need help in Yosemite. We have displaced employees who have lost most / all of what they own: **We can’t accept money. We need actual items**
His listed all sizes of socks, underwear, jackets, sweatshirts, waterproof pants, gloves, beanies as well as hygiene products (teeth, deodorant, feminine etc.), blankets, pillows, sheets, shovels, storage bins.
“As well as FOOD. That can be made in a microwave / non-perishable. All items can be dropped off / or sent to: Yosemite Hospitality HR office 9001 Village Dr Yosemite Valley, CA 95389 Please share / help if you can. If local areas could help, these items are needed ASAP. Another huge storm comes in tonight. So many employees would be thankful.”
Nicholes Schmitt, 27, native of Louisiana, who worked in Yosemite as an Aramark employee cooking at Big Trees Lodge in Wawona starting July 4, said in a phone interview Friday he quit in October and returned home to Lafayette because of the way his employment with Aramark turned out.
He’s keeping track of what’s happening in Yosemite Valley this week, he empathizes with current Aramark employees, and he said he’s speaking out now because, unlike his former co-workers, he doesn’t fear losing his job for speaking to news media.
Schmitt said he was evacuated from Wawona to Yosemite Valley during the Ferguson Fire in August, then evacuated again from Yosemite Valley to a shelter in Bootjack, also in Mariposa County. He was unable to get any Aramark work during the month of August and depleted his savings. He returned to Big Trees Lodge to cook in early September until, disillusioned with his experiences, he quit in October.
“Mariposa County gave us more assistance as evacuees than Aramark ever did,” Schmitt said. “They had some Aramark people come to the shelter to visit us in Bootjack one time, and all they told us is they didn’t know what was going and there was nothing they do for us. And that sounded like (expletive) to me. They run the show, they should know what’s going on, they should let us know what’s going on.”
Aramark took over as primary concessioner in Yosemite National Park from Delaware North in March 2016. Hundreds of Aramark and former Delaware North employees have come from across the U.S. and around the world to work minimum wage guest services jobs including dishwashing, running cash registers and changing sheets in guest lodging.
Schmitt estimates current concessioner employees in Yosemite range in age from 18 to their 50s and older. A legal dispute over trademarks and historic place names between Delaware North and the National Park Service remains unresolved. Three years since the concessioner change, The Ahwahnee is still called Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Curry Village is called Half Dome Village, and the Wawona Hotel is called Big Trees Lodge.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.