Disney Workers in Orlando Demand Living Wage

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

As one media headline put it: “There’s trouble in the Magic Kingdom.” That’s because almost 40,000 unionized workers at Disney World’s properties there are vastly underpaid.

And now they want a raise, to a living wage.

The workers, represented by Unite Here Locals 737 and 762 and four smaller locals from other unions, unveiled a proposal designed to meet the standards of living in Orlando, Fla., site of the Disney complex,

Bargaining opened on August 28. But to step up the public face of their fight against Orlando’s largest employer, Unite Here plans a mass rally, inviting unionists and their allies from all over central Florida, on September 14. The current contract expires October 24.

Before talks opened, Disney management offered workers a 2.5 percent pay raise, and demanded a freeze on new workers’ pay at $10 an hour – a rate set by the current contract. 

years ago. It also claims the average worker makes $13 an hour, including overtime and premiums for performers, such as workers parading in Mickey Mouse costumes.

But the costs are so high in Orlando, and workers have suffered for so long, that the unions seek more. Local 737 President Jeremy Haicken told local media their proposal would see the average worker’s pay increase from $11.28 hourly to $15.71, just over the “Fight for $15 and a union” line that low-paid workers nationwide demanded on Labor Day.

The company’s 2.5 percent hike left workers unhappy. “It’s ‘disappointing,’” Magic Kingdom parking hostess Susie Easton said to local stations. “And I speak on behalf of all my fellow cast members when I say we deserve more.”

Bus Driver Steven Brainard said Disney “makes enough money to give employees a sizable bump in pay.

“It is sickening how they make millions and they give us little pennies here and there,” he said. Disney ticket prices range from $44 daily per person 10 years old and over for a 10-day theme park ticket to $99.50 per person for a 2-day ticket, its website says.

The two unions say the workers need the raises to construct “a path out of poverty.” 

"Our wages here in Central Florida are some of the lowest in the country," Local 362 President Eric Clinton told a local alternative weekly. "A majority of people who work in this town make less than $30,000 a year. When you couple that with increasing rents, increasing housing costs, child care costs, this is something we find unacceptable." 

Clinton and Haicken said the union presented a three-part wage proposal: An "accelerated" progression toward a living wage, raises for veteran workers who have toiled for at least 30 years, and simpler pay scales. Haicken says the current Disney contract means a worker now making $10 hourly wouldn’t reach the $15 living wage until 2028. In that contract, four years ago, the locals won a raise of $1.97 hourly, to $10, for the new workers.

"We do know Orlando workers and their families cannot wait until 2028 to earn a living wage," Cruz-Haicken told the weekly.

“We started preparing banners for the Sept 14th rally this weekend with help from some of our community allies! If you're interested in helping make banners, signs, and other props for the September 14th rally please message the page!” Local 737 tweeted on Labor Day.

“We presented our wage proposal to Disney at negotiations Monday and let them know why cast members both need and deserve raises to a living wage. Join our fight for these raises at our Rally for a Raise on September 14th,” a prior tweet added.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

An Invitation to Sunny Miami. What Could Be Bad?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

If a billionaire “invites” you somewhere, you’d better go. Or be prepared to suffer the consequences. This past May, hedge fund kingpin Carl Icahn announced in a letter to his New York-based staff of about 50 that he would be moving his business operations to Florida. But the 83-year-old Icahn assured his staffers they had no reason to worry: “My employees have always been very important to the company, so I’d like to invite you all to join me in Miami.” Those who go south, his letter added, would get a $50,000 relocation benefit “once you have established your permanent residence in Florida.” Those who stay put, the letter continued, can file for state unemployment benefits, a $450 weekly maximum that “you can receive for a total of 26 weeks.” What about severance from Icahn Enterprises? The New York Post reported last week that the two dozen employees who have chosen not to uproot their families and follow Icahn to Florida “will be let go without any severance” when the billionaire shutters his New York offices this coming March. Bloomberg currently puts Carl Icahn’s net worth at $20.5 billion.

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