ORLANDO, Fla. – Thousands of Walt Disney World union employees voted to approve a new, historic contract.
The deal, which came after nearly a year of negotiations and was approved Thursday evening, will bump the starting minimum wage for nearly half of the theme park resort’s cast member positions to $15 per hour -- a 50 percent increase -- over the next three years.
"Our 50 percent wage increase will have a real, meaningful impact on our cast and their families -- and is part of our commitment to the thousands of cast members who make magic for our guests each and every day," George A. Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement. "Increasing wages for cast members represents a significant investment in Central Florida, and will provide a powerful boost to the local economy."
Workers in the six unions involved in the contract will also receive a $1,000 bonus and a retroactive pay raise dating back to September 2017.
In exchange, Disney will be allowed to use more part-time workers and expand random drug tests.
In total, the deal covers more than half of the 74,000 workers at Disney World.
Union leaders had urged employees to approve it.
Thursday was the last day for workers to vote on the proposal. Officials said 13,673 employees voted, of which 13,557 people voted in favor of the contract and 116 employees voted "no."
"The numbers are outstanding. Over 13,000 people voted yes for a better working life," said Eric Clinton, a worker. "Absolutely amazing."
Officials said the shift to $15 an hour will be phased in over the next three years, beginning in December, when starting pay for hourly, non-tipped cast members will increase to $11 an hour.
In March 2019, starting rates will rise to $12 an hour, $13 an hour in September 2019, $14 an hour in October 2020 and then $15 an hour in October 2021, officials said.
"It's going to be $10,000 in our bank account, so it's amazing," said Scott Sulock, a worker. "We can go on vacation. We don't have to worry about paying bills."
Most cast members who currently work above minimum wage will see raises totaling about $4.75 an hour phased in over roughly the same time period.
Many said it hasn't been easy getting to this point.
"It was very rough for me for what we were getting paid to make it," said Wanda Figuroua, a worker. "We really needed this a long time ago. I'm proud, I believe and we made it. We got it."
A spokesman from Universal Orlando would not say if the resort would consider altering its own minimum wage policy in response.
"We are always going to work to be competitive in the marketplace, but we are not going to discuss future strategies," the statement read.
Legoland Florida also issued a statement.
"We offer a competitive starting pay rate for our Model Citizens (employees) which varies based on a number of factors including role responsibilities and special skills, and we continually evaluate our compensation to remain competitive within the greater Polk County area. Full-time and part-time Model Citizens receive comprehensive benefits including tuition reimbursement and a generous amount of tickets to enjoy other Merlin Entertainments attractions," the statement read.
An official from SeaWorld Orlando expressed a similar sentiment.
"SeaWorld has a competitive pay philosophy, and we are continually assessing internal and external factors to ensure we stay competitive within the industry, including in the Orlando area," the company's statement read.