ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Union members voted against a proposed contract that covered tens of thousands of Walt Disney World service workers, saying it doesn’t go far enough to help employees deal with rising living costs in central Florida’s housing and other expenses .
Unions said 13,650 out of 14,263 members who voted on the deal Friday rejected Disney’s proposal, sending negotiators back to the negotiating table for another round of talks that have been ongoing since August. The contract covers approximately 45,000 service employees at the Disney theme park resort outside of Orlando.
Disney World service workers, represented in the six unions in the Service Trades Council Union coalition, had called for the minimum wage to rise to at least $18 an hour in the first year of the contract, up from the minimum wage of $15 an hour the previous year contract hour gained.
The proposal, rejected on Friday, would have raised the starting minimum wage for all service workers to $20 an hour through the final year of the five-year contract, an increase of $1 a year for the majority of affected workers. Certain positions, such as housekeepers, bus drivers and cooking jobs, would start immediately at a minimum of $20 under the proposal.
“Housekeepers work extremely hard to bring magic to Disney, but we can’t pay our bills with magic,” said Vilane Raphael, who works as a housekeeper at Disney Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.
The company said the proposal offered a quarter of those covered by the contract a $20 hourly wage in the first year, eight weeks of paid time off to have a new child, the maintenance of a pension and the introduction of a $401,000 plan.
“Our strong offer provides more than 30,000 cast members with an average salary increase of nearly 10% immediately, as well as retrospective salary increases in their paychecks, and we’re disappointed that those increases are now being delayed,” Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger said in a statement.
The standstill comes as the Florida Legislature is poised to convene next week to finalize it a state takeover of the self-governing district of Disney World. With the support of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the GOP-controlled Statehouse last April approved legislation to wind up the Reedy Creek Improvement District by June 2023, beginning a closely watched process that would determine the governmental structure that would govern Disney’s sprawling property World controlled.
The service staff contract includes the costumed character actors, who appear as Mickey Mouse, bus drivers, kitchen workers, lifeguards, theater workers and hotel housekeepers, and represent more than half of Disney World’s 70,000+ workforce. The contract, approved five years ago, made Disney the first major employer in central Florida to agree to a $15 hourly minimum wage, setting the trend for other workers in the hospitality-heavy region.
A report commissioned last year by one of the unions in the coalition, Unite Here Local 737, said that an adult worker with no dependents would need to earn $18.19 an hour to earn a living wage in central Florida, while a family with two children has both parents would earn $23.91 an hour for a living wage.
While the last contract was paid at $15 an hour, “with rent, food and gas prices skyrocketing over the past three years, it’s no longer possible to survive on those wages,” says the report.
Before the pandemic, workers with families in the $15 to $16.50 an hour wage bracket could pay their bills. But as inflation drives up prices for groceries and gas, a clerk making $15 an hour full-time currently makes $530 less than the worker would have to pay for rent, food and gas each month, according to the report.
Last month, hospitality and concession workers at the Orange County Convention Center voted on a deal that will increase wages for all non-tipped workers to $18 an hour by August, making them the first hospitality workers in Orlando to do so achieve this wage rate.
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