Photographer: Matt Stroshane/Bloomberg

Disney's 38,000 Florida Union Workers Seek Wage-Hike Talks

  • Negotiations scheduled to begin in August, labor group says
  • Parks division seen vital for company’s profit growth

Walt Disney Co.’s 38,000 union workers in Florida are seeking to reopen wage talks so resort employees can negotiate pay raises from the current contract minimum of $10 an hour.

Negotiations are scheduled to begin Aug. 28, Ed Chambers, president of the workers’ Service Trades Council Union, said in a statement. A committee of employees must give its final blessing at a meeting on Wednesday.

A wage hike would raise costs for Disney at a time when the company’s largest business, television, is coping with a loss of viewers to online video options. Analysts expect the bulk of the company’s profit growth to come from its parks division. Disney is also in the midst of a building boom. Attractions under construction include two, $1 billion “Star Wars” lands in Florida and California. On July 15, the company unveiled plans for a dozen other projects such as a new cruise ship and a “Star Wars” hotel in Orlando.

The world’s largest theme-park operator signed a 5 1/2-year contract in 2014 that allowed workers to reopen wage talks this year. The two sides have until October to reach an agreement on pay or the entire contract could be reopened, including pension and health-care benefits, Chambers said in a statement.

“Our bargaining team is solid and experienced,” Chambers said. “I expect to get far more than the old 25- to 35-cent raises from the past.”

The Burbank, California-based company signed the current contract, which raised pay to $10 an hour from about $8, at a time when President Barack Obama was pushing for a national minimum wage hike.

“We plan to put forth an overall employment package that is fair and equitable for the cast and the company,” Jacquee Wahler, a spokeswoman for Disney, said in an email.

The Walt Disney World resort is the largest theme-park complex in the world, with four parks and 27 hotels on 25,000 acres. Disney is metropolitan Orlando’s largest employer with some 74,000 workers, or almost 40 percent of the company’s total. The company recently added 1,500 jobs to staff the new “Avatar” attraction at its Animal Kingdom park.

Employees negotiate through the Service Trades Council Union, a consortium representing everyone from hotel housekeepers to employees who walk the parks in character costumes. The workers’ wage demands haven’t been made public. The majority of Disney’s union employees make less than $15 an hour, Chambers said in the statement. Most have worked for the company for more than 10 years.

Elizabeth Hill, a 23-year-old ride operator at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park, said she has worked for the company for four years and makes $10 an hour. Much of her income goes to paying tolls to and from work on her 45-minute commute, she said. Hill’s uncertain she could find another job right now because she’s pregnant and doesn’t believe other employers would hire her in that condition.

“I work hard to be where I’m at,” she said. “I live paycheck to paycheck.”

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