Union Disney World workers in Orlando are mobilizing their fellow cast members to reject the latest contract proposal from the Walt Disney company in a vote this week.
The Service Trades Council Union, a coalition of six labor unions representing about 45,000 Disney World workers in Orlando, is urging full-time cast members to reject Disney's "best offer," as the unions work to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the multinational conglomerate. Their previous contract expired Oct. 1.
The labor unions, and many of the workers they represent, say Disney's latest proposal falls short of what workers need to make ends meet in Central Florida. It offers a $1 pay raise each year over five years, gradually raising minimum wage workers' pay to $20. Disney told CNN their offer would also raise the pay of housekeepers (who make $17 minimum) and bus drivers to at least $20 an hour immediately, upon ratification of the contract; raise culinary staff pay to $20 to $25 per hour minimum, depending on their role; and still raise pay more than $1 per hour in that first year for a fraction of Disney employees covered by the contract.
The unions have been fighting for an $18 minimum wage in 2023, based on conversations with union members last year, and say that Disney's $1-per-year offer for some (and a little more for some others) still leaves too many cast members behind.
"There's no question inflation has impacted every single Disney worker, not just certain classifications. The cost of rent, fuel, utilities and groceries has impacted and continues to impact every Disney worker," Matt Hollis, president of the STCU and principal officer for the Transportation Communications Union (TCU) Local 1908, said at a press conference staged at the Teamsters Local 385 union hall. "One dollar in the first year is simply not enough. Disney can do better, and Disney must do better," said Hollis.
The unions have been negotiating a new contract with Disney since August.
Several cast members on Friday shared personal stories to illustrate the struggles they've faced just trying to make it by on Disney World wages.
Annie Sierra has for five years been a quick service worker at Disney's Animal Kingdom, is the mother of two other cast members, and is a survivor of cancer and domestic violence. During Friday's press conference, Sierra said she was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2020, and learned while undergoing multiple rounds of chemo that her daughter had also been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Since childhood it's been a dream of hers to work at Disney, but magic alone doesn't pay the bills.
Making $16.50 an hour, she's found herself forced to face the question of whether she can forgo medication some weeks in order to make sure her kids have enough to eat and so that she can afford treatment for her daughter. The raise offered in Disney's latest proposal, she says, isn't going to cut it for herself or her fellow cast members.
"A living wage is not a gift. One dollar is not enough. We make your magic and one job should be enough for us," she said, to applause from other workers in the union hall.
That's a message that also speaks to Mel Paradiso, 31, an employee at Disney's Magic Kingdom, who recently returned to work from maternity leave. With a four-month-old son at home, she's now in the process of transitioning into an overnight custodial role at Disney, from her three years in attractions. It's not an ideal situation. But her husband also works during the day, and even with their combined wages, the hundreds of dollars that childcare would cost them per week isn't an expense they can afford.
A living hourly wage for two working adults with one child in Orange County is $32.51, according to MIT's Living Wage Calculator, which takes into account basic expenses such as food, housing, transportation, health insurance and childcare costs.
Disney does have a childcare option for workers, Paradiso said, but it closes early in the day, before the end of her usual shifts.
She told Orlando Weekly she's preparing herself for the sleep deprivation that's likely to come from both the new job and the everyday challenges of being a new mother, "but I'm willing to put up with that in order for us to not have to come up with, you know, another month's rent at the end of the month" for childcare, she said.
Union members at Orlando's Disney World theme parks, ranging from food service workers to bus drivers, stage technicians, hospitality workers, vacation planners and more — those who labor every day to foster an environment that's magical for tourists and locals alike — will be voting on whether to approve Disney's best offer this Thursday and Friday.
Over the weekend, dozens of cast members were out leafleting, as part of an effort to mobilize members to show up to voting locations this week to reject Disney's offer.
🗣️ $1 is not enough!— UNITE HERE! Local 362 (@UNITEHERE362) January 30, 2023
Shop Stewards and Organizers are out talking with Union Members this morning about the Contract vote later this week. #VoteNo #DisneyWorkersNeedaRaise pic.twitter.com/9QkWdukv41
And that's not an easy lift. Just trying to organize a vote of this magnitude on Disney property to send a message to the tourism giant is "pretty big," STCU president Matt Hollis said on Friday.
This mobilization effort, set to continue over the next several days, comes less than a week after hospitality workers at the Orange County Convention Center, employed by food service provider Sodexo, fought for and won an $18 minimum wage with their union Unite Here Local 737 (which also represents Disney workers), setting a new standard for the region's hospitality workers.
Disney's parks division recorded billions of dollars in revenues last year, and they've found the money to pay CEO Bob Iger about $27 million, according to Fortune magazine. They also found the money to pay a $20 million severance package to former CEO Bob Chapek, who was fired in November.
Paradiso, the new mother, said she imagines Disney's offer to raise pay gradually for its Orlando cast members over five years is a cost-cutting measure for the company, but believes it's clear the region's largest employer can afford better. "This company is big on its image, and showing them, like, 'Hey this isn't good enough' is not going to look good."
"We have a voice and we need to use it together," Nicole Bailey, a Disney World lifeguard and member of the local Teamsters, told fellow cast members and press on Friday. "Vote no. Stand together."
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