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Wilna Destin

Union organizer | For fighting to make Disney a magical place for all, not just some

In 2021, a housekeeper working at Walt Disney World Resort will make $17 an hour – and that means everything to Wilna Destin.

It's nearly double the amount Destin, 44, earned when she started as a housekeeper at Disney in 2012, and it's been made possible through her work as an organizer with the six Orlando labor unions that reached a historic agreement with Disney to raise starting pay from $10 to $15 within three years.

"Those $15 seemed impossible," the Unite Here Local 737 organizer says. "But at the end of the day, with a lot of positivity, we did it."

The drive to fight for opportunity started in 2000 when insecurity pushed Destin to flee Haiti in a boat to Miami. Once in Central Florida, she worked as an undocumented immigrant, cleaning people's houses for little pay and often facing abuse from her employers.

Her life changed when she applied for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a humanitarian program that allows immigrants facing armed conflict or natural disasters to live and work in the U.S. Haitians received TPS designations after their island was devastated by a 2010 earthquake.

With TPS, Destin was able to get a driver's license and apply for a union job with health care benefits at Disney.

"Getting TPS was huge for me," she says. "It was like a freedom for my life."

After joining the union, she helped organize Disney housekeepers to get their first raise in 2014 to $9.50. When Local 737 president Jeremy Haicken told Destin and other union organizers that they would next fight for a $15 living wage, they thought it was crazy, she says. Florida's hourly minimum wage has never been higher than $8.50.

But Destin and other organizers knocked on dozens of doors to speak to Disney employees who could barely afford housing, organized petition drives and staged protests in front of tourists. Their persistence finally paid off last year after months of negotiations with the theme park.

Destin is in the second fight of her life now against the Trump administration. She and her 15-year-old U.S.-born daughter are plaintiffs in a lawsuit suing the federal government for abruptly terminating the TPS program for Haitians and setting a July 2019 deadline for them to leave.

"We are hard-working people," she says. "We are America. This is what America looks like. We all come for freedom. We all come for opportunity. All we have to do is keep fighting."

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