After Orlando Disney workers overwhelmingly reject a paltry pay raise, Disney comes back with a worse offer

This comes on the heels of Universal Orlando’s announcement that they’ll increase their minimum wage to $17.

click to enlarge After Orlando Disney workers overwhelmingly reject a paltry pay raise, Disney comes back with a worse offer
Photo via Disney

Less than two weeks after thousands of unionized Disney World workers in Orlando rejected a contract proposal from Disney offering just a $1 pay raise this year for most, the multinational company came back with an even worse offer after one day back at the bargaining table.

"Despite the overwhelming message sent by Cast Members, Disney refused to add even one cent to its wage proposal," the Service Trades Council Union, a coalition of six labor unions representing 45,000 Disney World employees, shared in an email. "Moreover, Disney’s proposal today reduced retroactive pay for thousands of workers, making today's proposal even worse than the offer already rejected," the STCU added.

Matt Hollis, president of the STCU, confirmed with Orlando Weekly that Disney on Wednesday offered "no meaningful change" from their last offer, which was rejected by 13,650 workers, out of about 14,200 workers who'd voted on whether to accept Disney's offer earlier this month.

A spokesperson for the Walt Disney Co. had told Orlando Weekly that their last offer had included retroactive increased pay dating back to October 2022, starting at a minimum of $700 for those working at least 40 hours per week. Hollis told Orlando Weekly Wednesday night that the total reduction in retroactive pay in Disney's latest offer varied by job classification, but was disappointing, to say the least.

And they won't be returning to the bargaining table tomorrow.

Andrea Finger, a spokesperson for Walt Disney World told Orlando Weekly in an emailed statement Thursday morning, "We’ve provided the union with options that would set all non-tipped cast members on a path to $20 an hour and provide opportunities for immediate increases, and we look forward to continuing discussions.” 

According to the company, the offer included an option that would have raised wages for non-tipped workers to at least $17 an hour, upon ratification of the contract by both parties, with some workers reaching $20 within the first year.

Paul Cox, president of  IATSE Local 631, which represents about 2,000 Disney World workers, shared on Twittter that the offer essentially moves the money around, but still represents a $5 wage increase for workers (or a "path" towards a $20 minimum wage, up from $15) over the life of a multi-year contract.

STCU represents various classifications of Disney World workers, from costuming to attractions, bus drivers, culinary workers and character performers. The coalition has been negotiating for a new collective bargaining agreement, or union contract, for frontline workers since August. They've been working under a contract that expired in October, but has been extended.

For nearly six months, the unions have been fighting for an $18 minimum wage for Disney World workers, up from $15, in a region where a living wage for a single adult with no children is about $18.85, or $32.51 in a household of two working adults with one child.

Making Disney's theme parks magical is labor-intensive, but workers can't pay their bills with magic. Many workers are fighting for better pay and other job benefits because they love their jobs and want to stay in them — but also want to be able to do them without falling behind on bills or skipping meals in order to keep family members fed.

A recent survey by one of the  unions found that 69% of local tourism workers surveyed last year said they haven't had the money to pay rent or mortgage. Sixty-two percent say they have less than $100 in savings, and 45% reported skipping meals.

Meanwhile, the Disney Parks' division, which accounted for a third of the company's revenue and more than half its operating income over the first nine months of last year, made $28 billion in revenue in 2022. The company found the money to pay CEO Bob Iger $27 million, and to say goodbye to former CEO Bob Chapek, who was fired in November, with a $20 million severance package. During the 2020 election cycle, the "woke" corporation also found the money to give the re-election campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis $50,000 in March 2021, and another $50,000 two years before that.

Granted, that was before DeSantis directed Florida's GOP-controlled legislature to pass legislation approving a state takeover of Disney's Reedy Creek special tax district, created in 1967, which essentially serves as a fully fledged government. They've since solidified a plan for how to carry that takeover out.

This latest offer comes after Walt Disney Co. announced last week it would lay off 7,000 workers, or 3% of its workforce, as its movie and TV streaming efforts continue to lose the company money. But frontline workers at Disney theme parks in Orlando are expected to be spared. “You don’t save the company money by cutting your lowest-paid workers,” Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here Local 362, told the Orlando Sentinel.

This disappointing news for the thousands of workers waiting for a serious proposal from Disney also comes on the heels of Universal Orlando's announcement on Tuesday that they'd be increasing their minimum wage for workers up to $17, effective June 4, 2023. Sodexo, which contracts food service work at the Orange County Convention Center, recently agreed to raise base pay for food service workers there from $13 to $18 this year through an agreement with their union.

According to the STCU, Disney World workers plan to hold public actions in the near future "to bring light to the plight of Cast Members struggling to survive the devastating increase in the cost of living." Hollis, the STCU president, told Orlando Weekly no date has been set yet for those actions.

Their previous contract, since extended, includes a no-strike clause. It's unclear at this time what the workers might be planning, although the unions have rallied to bring attention to their demands in the past.

UPDATE 2/16/2023, 8:45 a.m: Addition of statement from Disney, and added background from Paul Cox, President of IATSE Local 631

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McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, with a focus on state and local government, workers' rights, and housing issues. Previously worked for WMNF Radio in Tampa. You can find her bylines in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, In These Times, Strikewave, and Facing South among other publications.
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