Disney's best offer for union employees falls short, according to the workers' unions

The STCU, a coalition of six labor unions representing 42,000 Disney employees, recommends rejecting the latest offer

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click to enlarge STCU union members rallied in between bargaining sessions on Wednesday, Nov. 30 - photo via Unite Here
photo via Unite Here
STCU union members rallied in between bargaining sessions on Wednesday, Nov. 30

After months of contract negotiations, and a rally to bring attention to the need for the Walt Disney Co. to pay its Orlando employees wages that keep up with the cost of living, the unions representing Disney workers say the company's "best offer" falls short.

"Disney workers are facing extreme financial difficulties including inflation, which has caused the price of food and rent to skyrocket," the Service Trades Council Union, a coalition of six labor unions representing 42,000 Disney employees, shared in a news release.

According to the unions, Disney unveiled its "best offer" for its Orlando employees during contract negotiations on Monday. The offer, in line with what Central Florida's largest employer floated last year, is an immediate $1 raise for the majority of their union workers in 2023, which would bring the minimum wage for their lowest paid workers to $16 an hour, and a $1 raise annually over the next five years.

But the unions say this isn't good enough. The STCU has called on Disney to establish an $18 minimum wage, and a $3 pay raise in 2023 for workers who already make near or above that, to keep up with the higher cost of living in Central Florida.
Leadership of all six unions have recommended that union members reject the latest offer from Disney. "Sixteen dollars per hour in 2023 does not keep up with the rising cost of living," said the STCU. "Every worker needs an initial raise larger than $1 to address these concerns."

Housing costs in Central Florida have soared over the past two years, placing the region's low-wage service industry workers at a heightened risk for displacement, eviction, and homelessness. “I’ve seen grown men break down,” Earl Penson, a food handler of 11 years for the Disney World theme park, told Orlando Weekly in November.

Penson, a second-generation Disney employee, said last year he knew several co-workers who slept in their cars, or would pass up meals. "I mean, to actually see a grown man tear up because he can't pay a bill," he said. "It's hard for people to work and live in Orlando."

A report released last year by Unite Here Local 737, one of the unions that represents Disney workers, shared that 69 percent of 2,415 tourism workers surveyed (including but not limited to workers employed by Disney) said they hadn't had the money to pay rent or mortgage costs over the last year. Twenty-six percent said they had to move as a result of rent or mortgage increases, and 45 percent reported skipping meals to cut costs. 

Central Florida's tourism industry, meanwhile, has bounced back from pandemic slowdowns, and is enjoying profits surpassing prepandemic levels. The Walt Disney Co. last year generated a revenue of nearly $83 billion — and $28.7 billion in the company’s theme park division alone. 

The Disney workers' unions have been in negotiations with Disney World for a new contract for months, and have attended several bargaining sessions to hammer out a deal. In negotiations for their previous contract, ratified in 2018, Disney World workers successfully pushed for a $15 minimum wage, which went into effect in 2021.

That was a victory achieved ahead of Florida's vote in 2020 to get the state on track towards a $15 minimum wage that the unions say pushed other local tourism employers, such as SeaWorld and Universal, to also subsequently move to increase employee pay.

The Disney World unions' contract in Orlando expired in October, but it has been extended until the two parties — the Walt Disney Co. and the STCU — reach a new deal.

According to the STCU, Disney's union members represented by the council will vote on whether to accept Disney's best offer in the coming weeks.

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About The Author

McKenna Schueler

News reporter for Orlando Weekly, covering general news, local government, labor, housing, and other social and economic justice issues. Previously worked as a news anchor for WMNF in Tampa and a freelance journalist with works published in In These Times, Strikewave, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and Facing South...
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