Disney World unions turn down contract, plan to pursue better pay – Orlando Sentinel

Unionized Disney World employees overwhelmingly vetoed the company’s most recent offer in ongoing contract negotiations Friday, signaling the groups will return to the bargaining table as the unions continue their push for better wages.

Disney and the unions have been negotiating a new contract for full-time workers since Aug. 24. The previous deal, which expired in October but is extended in the interim, prohibits workers from going on strike.

Service Trades Council Union President Matt Hollis said 96% of the 14,264 workers who voted over the past two days rejected Disney’s contract proposal.

The union coalition has nearly 45,000 members between full- and part-time employees. The contract for part-time workers is negotiated separately.

Members of the union coalition said Disney’s offer to gradually increase starting pay to $20 an hour over the next five years would give the majority of workers a raise of just $1 per hour year-over-year. That rate does not represent a living wage as costs rise, union leaders argued.

The room in the Wyndham Orlando Resort & Conference Center where union members counted the votes erupted in cheers as Hollis announced the results around 7 p.m. Friday.

“This, folks, sends a clear message that Disney workers are united in our belief that Disney can do better, and Disney must do better,” Hollis said. “The leadership of every Service Trades Council affiliate and our bargaining committees will be calling on Disney to return to the bargaining table.”

“And when they get there, we expect to see a real strong offer, economically, that addresses the current record inflation, skyrocketing rent and the cost of living increases that workers are facing today,” he continued.

In a statement, Disney said it was “disappointed” in the vote’s results.

“Our strong offer provides more than 30,000 Cast Members a nearly 10% on average raise immediately, as well as retroactive increased pay in their paychecks, and we are disappointed that those increases are now delayed,” spokeswoman Andrea Finger said.

Ahead of the vote’s count, Animal Kingdom attractions employee Diego Henry said rejecting the contract would make him “feel like I’d won the Super Bowl.”

“That will be the highlight of the year, next to actually getting what we want,” said Henry, 37, who also serves on the union’s executive board. “I think that Disney needs to do better.”

Unions urged workers to reject the proposal leading up to the vote as Disney encouraged them to accept it.

Disney emphasized that the contract offered 46% of the 30,000 non-tipped, full-time employees represented by the union coalition — around 13,800 workers — raises of more than $1 per hour in the contract’s first year.

The company also said its proposal was retroactive to October 2022, meaning Disney’s wages would continue to outpace Florida’s minimum wage by at least $5 per year. Certain roles, like housekeepers, bus drivers and culinary positions, would have started at $20 an hour this year under the proposal.

Disney’s offer also included a lump sum of retroactive pay for full-time, non-tipped cast members from October, in addition to eight weeks of paid child-bonding time for qualifying full-time employees and an additional 401(k) plan.

Finger said Jan. 27 that the majority of non-tipped employees would see a 33%-46% wage increase during the proposed contract.

Hollis responded that Disney’s wages have been higher than Florida’s minimum wage for years because employees perform a variety of tasks and are held to high standards.

The 2018 contract agreement that gradually increased pay to $15 an hour in 2021 boosted workers above the area’s living wage at the time, Hollis added, but inflation and higher housing costs have lessened the value of workers’ wages.

“And while it is true that some workers would receive an initial increase of more than $1, the fact is that under Disney’s current offer, an overwhelming majority of the STCU workers — over 30,000 of the 45,000 — would receive only the initial increase of $1,” he said late last month.

Rosie Rodriguez, who works at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, said a $1 raise would not help cover her costs as her monthly rent recently increased by $700.

“We have to be strong to get a fair contract, to get what we deserve,” said Rodriguez, who currently makes $15 an hour selling concessions. “Because $1 is not enough … inflation is not going to stop.”

Henry said the $1 increase felt like “a slap in the face” after he and his fellow employees helped Disney reopen from a nearly four-month shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic and have kept the parks operating smoothly during all the changes since.

The business division that includes Disney’s theme parks has broken multiple earnings records in recent years. Disney’s Parks, Experiences and Products segment reported a record fiscal year revenue of $28.7 billion in November.

Henry has worked at Disney since 2013 and spoke about his difficulties finding affordable housing in the 2019 Orlando Sentinel series “Laborland.” When his hourly pay increased to $15 in 2021, said the raise allowed him to pay down debt and start looking for a house.

But inflation over the past couple of years has cut into the savings he started with the previous raise and caused him to rely on credit again to pay some bills, Henry said this week.

His family continues to live in the same one-bedroom apartment because they cannot afford a bigger space. His daughter, a high school senior, still sleeps in the living room.

“Central Florida is still in a housing crisis, and the company knows that and they’re refusing to make sure their cast members are tended to,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to give a Mickey bar to a kid when you know that you can’t afford one for your own.”

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