Gideon’s Bakehouse workers speak out about working conditions at Disney Springs, plan to unionize

'Make no mistake, if the following solutions are not implemented with immediate effect, we will do everything in our power to topple this cookie castle permanently.'

click to enlarge Gideon’s Bakehouse workers speak out about working conditions at Disney Springs, plan to unionize
photo via Gideon's Bakehouse on Instagram

Workers at the steampunk-style Gideon’s Bakehouse at Disney Springs have announced plans to unionize after capturing the attention of customers near and far earlier this week, with claims shared online of ghastly low pay, unsanitary working conditions and alleged retaliation for speaking up about it.

Organized under the moniker "the Ghosts of Gideon," a group of workers at Gideon’s Disney Springs location (it’s unclear how many) shared their concerns with Orlando Weekly in a press release over the weekend, then went public with their demands for change at the popular bakery earlier this week on Reddit and Instagram.

Bakery ownership and leadership “have built a toxic empire of lies,” the group shared on a Ghosts of Gideon Instagram account. “We feel unsafe, underpaid, and are being severely taken advantage of, purely so they can reap a fortune.”

According to the Ghosts of Gideon, the bakery rakes in upward of $40,000 each day — a figure they can see on their cashier’s till, one employee told Orlando Weekly. Meanwhile, front-of-house staff at the shop earn just $8.98 an hour — the bare minimum that employers in Florida can legally pay workers who customarily receive direct wages in tips.

This low pay rate, the collective says, forces workers living in one of Florida’s most expensive metro areas to rely on the public for tips, on top of their $6 mega-cookies and $5–$8 cold brews.

Lackluster pay is a major point of grievance in the eight-page demand letter the Ghosts sent to company leadership on May 10. In the letter, they say that they were told at a May 6 staff meeting they "could no longer 'ask for' tips."

Restaurant tipping, especially in counter-service operations like Gideon's, is currently a hot topic across the country. “This decision has caused each of us to suffer immensely. We demand a $400.00 bonus per pay period to be paid to every employee that has worked since this policy was implemented to compensate for the dramatic drop in wages that we have suffered,” wrote the collective of bakery employees.

‘How dare you drag the entire workforce to a 9AM meeting, demanding our presence, and then talk directly at us with the most mundane drivel we’ve ever heard,’ the Ghosts of Gideon wrote in a letter to management.

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A new job listing shared online for Gideon’s Bakehouse at Disney Springs actually lists the base pay rate for front of house staff as $8.88 an hour — 10 cents below Florida’s legal minimum wage. Orlando Weekly reached out to Gideon’s Bakehouse for comment on this seemingly illegal pay rate. Gideon's Bakehouse owner Steve Lewis told Orlando Weekly after publication that the subminimum pay rate was a mistake and that they were trying to get it updated.

Beyond pay, the Ghosts of Gideon also alleged unsafe and unfair working conditions. The demand letter voices a dizzying array of other allegations, from insufficient cleaning procedures for baking sheets and an inefficient and performative cold brew procedure (shaking each drink "bartender style") to a lack of safety and training procedures for emergency situations such as a fire or bomb threat, a lack of fire exit from the kitchen and a lack of ADA compliance in staff areas, such that an employee using a wheelchair other mobility aid would not be able to maneuver behind the service counter or through the kitchen.

They also decry a lack of cooling measures for staff working outside. According to workers, Gideon’s dress code requires them to wear long pants and all black clothes, and they say — unlike other employees on the Disney Springs property — Gideon's staff working outdoors do not have access to fans or any other form of relief from heat exposure when Florida’s temperatures rise.

Long pants are not required for restaurant staff under Florida health and safety guidelines, but many restaurant owners prohibit them for risk management reasons.

“It comes down to ownership favoring an aesthetic over what is needed,” one employee, who identified themselves only as GG over the phone, told Orlando Weekly Monday.

Despite reports of record heat in recent years, Florida does not have any state or federal standard for protecting employees from extreme heat on the job. Even more, Florida lawmakers recently approved a new law at the behest of corporate lobbyists ensuring  that local governments could not require employers to provide even basic protections against heat exposure either.

As GG sees it, “We have a narcissistic, greedy owner who wants form over function, and is not willing to allow employees to voice any concerns without your immediate firing.”

The Ghosts of Gideon collective has alleged that company leadership immediately began firing or targeting employees at the Disney Springs location within days of staff sending their demand letter last week.

Under federal labor law, it is illegal for an employer to fire or otherwise retaliate against an employee for organizing a union, or for engaging in other protected “concerted activities.” This includes “when two or more employees take action for their mutual aid or protection regarding terms and conditions of employment,” according to the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that enforces private sector employees’ organizing rights.

Violations of workers’ organizing rights constitute what’s known as an “unfair labor practice.” Workers who believe their rights have been violated can file a charge with the NLRB.

click to enlarge Instagram story posted by Gideon's Bakehouse owner Steve Lewis. - Instagram/@gideonsbakehouse
Instagram story posted by Gideon's Bakehouse owner Steve Lewis.

Gideon's Bakehouse owner and creator Steve Lewis shared on Tuesday an informal statement in an Instagram story posted on the Gideon's Bakehouse account, which only lasts 24 hours before disappearing. 

Within that statement, Lewis claimed that much of what had been represented by Ghosts of Gideon was "either misleading or false."

"I ask you not to run to the pitchforks and hear our side," Lewis wrote. "I hope we've earned at least that much in our own community."

Lewis said he feels confident "that everyone is treated with care and respect."

Lewis called the Ghosts of Gideon collective's concerns "accusations" made by "an anonymous source" in a statement emailed to Orlando Weekly following the initial publication of this story.

"As soon as these accusations went public, we talked to each and every member of our crew to be sure they felt safe and heard, reminding them that they are valued and we're all in this together," Lewis shared, emphasizing that he himself is a small business owner, not a faceless corporation.

His statement also assured readers that Gideon's Bakehouse "[complies] fully with all health and safety regulations."

Gideon’s Bakehouse, a project of Lewis', was first born in 2016, opening up shop at Orlando’s East End Market in Audubon Park. A second location opened in Disney Springs to much (and ongoing) fanfare in June 2020. The Ghosts take pride in the Disney Springs location, which notoriously features a 30-minute or longer virtual queue just to enter, stating, “The cookies are good, but make no mistake ... the customers come for us.”

click to enlarge Gideon’s Bakehouse workers speak out about working conditions at Disney Springs, plan to unionize
Photo by Sierra Williams

According to GG, talks of organizing for improvements at the Disney Springs location began with an intent to unionize. They themselves used to work a union-represented job up in New York. 

“There's the Unite Here [labor union] at Disney Springs, and we saw what the other restaurants were going through recently,” they shared.

Late last month, workers at five nonunion Disney Springs restaurants — owned by third-party company Delaware North — announced their own plans to organize with Unite Here Local 737, a labor union that already represents roughly 18,000 Disney World employees, as well as local hotel workers.

This past Tuesday, after going public with their concerns, the Ghosts of Gideon social media account shared a post announcing they, too, had begun the process of organizing a union with Unite Here Local 362, a local that similarly represents thousands Disney World employees, including those who work in attractions, vacation planning, custodial and at the toll plaza.

Out of all employment sectors, food and beverage services has one of the lowest unionization rates in the country, with just about 1.4 percent of workers in the sector unionized as of 2023, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, public support for labor unions in the U.S. is high. Data shows that unionized workers earn more than their nonunion counterparts on average, and are more likely to have job benefits like paid sick leave.

Moreover, Disney World in Orlando represents a sort of "island of union power," as labor reporter and author Hamilton Nolan once put it, in a right-to-work state where just about 6 percent of workers have union representation. 

In light of their announcement to unionize, the “Ghosts of Gideon” politely declined further interviews with Orlando Weekly at this time. We'll keep you posted on further developments.

This story has been updated to clarify that Orlando Weekly spoke to someone who identified themselves as "GG" (not "DD" as originally published) and to include comment from Gideon's Bakehouse owner Steve Lewis. Lewis provided this statement through a PR person via email after this story was initially published.

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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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