Orlando unions file federal complaint against Disney for withholding bonuses

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Disney unions in Orlando have filed a federal labor complaint against the theme park company for allegedly withholding $1,000 bonuses from unionized workers unless they approve the company's wage proposal.

"Disney is discriminating against 38,000 of some of its lowest-paid cast members," said Angie McKinnon, a representative for one of the Disney unions. "Using the $1,000 bonus to force cast members to accept low wages amounts to extortion."

The Walt Disney Company announced in January that it would give 125,000 employees a one-time cash bonus of $1,000 for all full-time and part-time non-executive domestic employees. At the time, Disney attributed the initiative to the GOP tax reform, which massively reduced the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

When the bonuses were announced, the six local Disney unions belonging to the Service Trades Council Union said the $1,000 bonus should be offered unconditionally to all unionized and non-unionized employees because it was unrelated to ongoing wage negotiations. In December, union workers overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer from Disney giving non-tipped employees a 6 to 10 percent increase over two years. Under the proposal, cast members making $10 per hour would only get a 50-cent raise in their hourly wages during the first year. Union leaders, who originally wanted an increase for workers to $15 per hour, compared Disney's proposed pay raises to "poverty wages."

On Monday, the STCU filed a complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board against Disney for withholding payment of $1,000 bonus to 38,000 union workers unless they accepted Disney's contract offer. If union workers don't accept the company's proposal by Aug. 31, the bonus offer will expire. The same bonus, though, is being offered unconditionally to over 80,000 cast members who are not unionized or are covered by unions not currently negotiating contracts, according to UNITE HERE Local 737.

"[Walt Disney Parks and Resorts] has retaliated and discriminated against approximately 38,000 employees for engaging in concerted activity, has violated its duty to bargain in good faith and engaged in conduct that is inherently destructive to rights guaranteed," the complaint states.

The STCU says out of the 38,000 cast members the organization represents, 23,000 workers make less than $12 an hour, and out of those, 8,000 earn $10 an hour. Disney argues the average hourly wage for one of its workers is about $13.34 including overtime and premium pay and notes that its starting wages are almost $2 more than Florida's minimum wage.

"Our offer to increase pay by 6 to 10 percent over the next two years reflects our ongoing commitment to our cast members," said Disney spokesperson Andrea Finger in a statement. "Wages and bonuses are part of our negotiation process. We will continue to meet with the union to move toward a ratified agreement."

Jeremy Haicken, president of Local 737, says Disney has insisted on using a federal mediator since last summer and told the unions they would be using the cash bonus offer in negotiations through that person.

"They're holding us hostage," Haicken says. "They're saying, essentially, you can get a $1,000 bonus if you accept 50-cent per hour raises you voted to reject."