Disney World unions reach tentative deal delivering $18 minimum wage in 2023

Disney World cast members score a better ‘best’ offer from Walt Disney World, celebrated as a victory on Thursday

click to enlarge Disney World unions reach tentative deal delivering $18 minimum wage in 2023
WDW photo 2022 / Adobe Stock

After months of fighting for wages that keep up with Central Florida's cost of living, the six labor unions representing Disney World employees in Orlando have reached a tentative agreement with the multinational company that would deliver an $18 minimum wage for workers this year.

Over the life of the five-year contract, the more than 40,000 Disney World workers covered by the agreement would see their pay rise between $5.50 to $8.60 per hour, with a $3 minimum raise arriving in full for all workers by the end of the year. That will place Disney World's minimum wage at $20.50, more than double what it was a decade ago, when minimum pay was just $10 per hour.

"This proposal is going to be life-changing," said Mel Paradiso, a custodial worker at Disney World represented by Unite Here Local 362, at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Paradiso, mother of a young son, saw her rent go up hundreds of dollars last year. She recently switched jobs, from attractions to a night-shift custodial job, so that she could stay at home with her son in the daytime — to avoid the unaffordable cost of childcare while her husband works days.

"I think that, you know, all the cast members hopefully will look at this and be like, You know what? We fought as hard as we could, and we got a deal that is just going to benefit everyone," she said.

The agreement reached today between the unions and Walt Disney World still needs to go to all union members next week for a final vote of approval.

Workers last month, for instance, democratically and overwhelmingly rejected a subpar offer from Disney World that would have raised wages just $1 per hour for many workers in the first year.  Over 14,000 workers participated in the vote, and 96% of them rejected it.

After that, Disney came back with an even worse offer, by and large, that would have reduced cast members' retroactive pay.

"For cast members that are making the minimum currently, this contract provides over 36% general wage increases over the life of the agreement," Matt Hollis, president of the STCU and Vice President of the Transportation Communications Union said of the new tentative agreement Thursday. It's a "fantastic accomplishment," he added.

Since last fall, the six unions representing Disney World workers, collectively known as the Service Trades Council Union, have been fighting for a minimum $3 per hour wage increase, in addition to other benefits, such as eight weeks of paid child bonding leave for eligible employees, a new benefit that made it into this final agreement.

IATSE Local 631, a labor union representing 1,700 Disney World workers, had also fought to close a gender pay gap between their union's highly skilled costuming workers (a female-dominated workforce) and stage technicians (a male-dominated workforce).

That's an issue the Walt Disney Co. has not only failed to address, according to workers, but has failed to even acknowledge, asserting that they don't pay female employees any less than their male employees within the same job classifications.

Walt Disney World has (still) not responded to Orlando Weekly's request for comment on that issue.

However, under the tentative agreement reached Thursday, cosmetologists — another largely female job classification — who are represented by the union will see their hourly rate rise from $16.90 to $20 per hour this year, according to IATSE Local 632 president Paul Cox.

This will largely set them on par with pay for the nearly 700 stage technicians.

Employees who work in costuming at the exceptionally profitable Disney parks in Orlando, meanwhile, will at least see the same raises afforded to other workers covered under the Service Trades Council Union's contract.

This agreement, better than what WDW offered before in its so-called "best offer," is largely considered a win to union leadership, offering what could for some be the difference between being able to pay the bills in today's economy and not.

"Just this morning, I was crying thinking about how I was going to afford my car tag renewal on top of the rent this week," said Tiara Moton, a cook at Disney's Be Our Guest restaurant and Unite Here Local 737 union member, in a statement.

Under the agreement, the lowest paid union cooks (Cook 2) will see raises from $16.40 to $20 immediately upon ratification, and $24 by the end of the contract, while a higher-paid tier (Cook 1) will see their hourly rate rise to $23.10 from $19 right away, ending at $27.10 in October 2026.

"This raise is going to get me another $4.10 right away, and retroactive pay," Moton added. "As a single mom, it’s going to let me finally catch up and even get ahead."

Progressive U.S. Congressman Maxwell Frost, who rallied with cast members last week in support of a fair contract, congratulated workers on Twitter.
Cast members have reported homelessness, sleeping in cars, struggling just to stay afloat amid skyrocketing rent hikes in recent years in Central Florida. Meanwhile Disney's Parks division alone, which took a hit during pandemic shutdowns, saw profits of $28 billion (that's billion with a "B") in 2022, making it one of the multinational company's most profitable divisions. The park's labor (its frontline workers) are all the more valuable and necessary to continue that trend.

Disney CEO Bob Iger, chosen to replace ousted CEO Bob Chapek (who was himself gifted a $20 million severance package on his way out last year) will reportedly make $27 million per year in his two-year contract as company head.

Disney World workers are set to vote on whether to approve their tentative agreement next Wednesday, March 29. Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with a vote count scheduled directly after.


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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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