Disney’s 38,000 Florida union workers seek talks on wage hike

LOS ANGELES • 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 US$10 (RM42.79) an hour.

Negotiations are scheduled to begin on 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 tomorrow.

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. Disney is also in the middle of a building boom in its parks and resorts division. Attractions under construction include two, US$1 billion “Star Wars” land 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-year contract 
in 2014 that allowed workers to re- open 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 healthcare 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-cent to 35-cent raises from the past.”

The Burbank, California-based company signed the current contract, which raised worker pay to US$10 an hour from about US$8, at a time when US 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 (10,117ha). Disney is metropolitan Orlando’s largest employer with some 74,000 workers, or almost 40% of the company’s total.

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 US$15-an-hour, Chambers said in the statement. — Bloomberg