Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
To the sounds of gleeful cheers, thousands of Disney union workers in Orlando overwhelmingly rejected the theme park company's proposed pay raise, which union leaders called "poverty wages."
Workers belonging to six local unions that make the Service Trades Council Union voted Tuesday and Wednesday on Disney's contract offer. Out of the 38,000 Disney cast members that make up the STCU, 9,117 voted against against accepting the contract (93 percent), while 643 voted to move forward with Disney's proposal.
When negotiations started earlier this year, union leaders originally wanted an increase for workers to $15 per hour. Out of the 38,000 cast members the unions represent, 23,000 workers make less than $12 an hour, and out of those, 8,000 earn $10 an hour. Disney estimates the average hourly wage for one of its workers is about $13.34 including overtime and premium pay, and its starting wages are almost $2 more than Florida's minimum wage.
In its latest contract offer, Disney proposed an increase of 6 to 10 percent raise over two years for non-tipped full-time and part-time workers. That means cast members who made $10 per hour would only get a 50-cent raise in their first year. Other workers who earn more would get a 3 percent raise in the same time frame. Disney also offered its employees a one-time $200 bonus and promised no increase in health care costs. Orlando Weekly
reached out to Disney representatives for a comment, but did not receive an immediate response.
Susie Easton, 26, was counting votes one by one with her fellow Teamsters union members on Wednesday at Disney's Contemporary Resort. Easton earns $10 an hour as a parking hostess at the Magic Kingdom after working at Disney for three years. On her salary, Easton can only afford to share an apartment with roommates, but she knows people who can only afford to live in motels. A 50-cent raise wouldn't do much for her – she says she would still have to skimp on food at least one week out of the month to have enough money to pay her rent and bills.
"It's something, but it doesn't help our path out of poverty – it's not a living wage," Easton says. "It's not fair. We deserve more. Guests come to visit Disney because of the cast members. That's who they're coming to see. That's who's out there making magic for guests. We're doing all the hard work so we do deserve more money."
Because workers rejected Disney's offer, the theme park company and the unions will have to go back to the bargaining table. In earlier negotiations, Disney requested a federal mediator.
"This is a historic day for our union and Orlando," says Jeremy Haicken, president of UNITE HERE Local 737. "Disney workers overwhelmingly said we deserve more, our families need more, Central Florida needs more. We're going to go back to back to the table next year, and we're going to demand more."
In a statement, a Disney spokesperson said the company was "disappointed" in the union vote.
"We are disappointed that the union rejected our fair and reasonable offer of a 6 to 10 percent wage increase over the next two years and we will continue to work with the union on negotiations," spokesperson Andrea Finger said.