ORLANDO, Fla. – Unions for service workers at Walt Disney World reached a tentative deal with the company on Thursday that would raise the starting minimum wage from $15 to $18 an hour by the end of the year in a pact that could set the basement for starting pay throughout central Florida's sprawling tourism industry.
Disney World service workers who are in the six unions that make up the Service Trades Council Union coalition planned to vote next Wednesday on the contract proposal after rejecting an earlier offer that fell short of the $18 hourly minimum wage last month. The agreement covers around 45,000 service workers at the Disney theme park resort outside Orlando. Workers could see their hourly wages rise between $5.50 and $8.60 by the end of the five-year contract if it's approved, union leaders said.
"Securing an $18 minimum hourly rate this year, increasing the overall economic value of Disney’s original offer, and ensuring full back pay for every worker are the priorities union members were determined to fight for,” said Matt Hollis, head of the coalition of unions. “Today, we won that fight.”
Disney said in a statement that the tentative deal also included “industry-leading” benefits in health insurance coverage and tuition reimbursement.
“Our cast members are central to Walt Disney World’s enduring magic, which is why we are pleased to have reached this tentative agreement," Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in the statement.
The contract with the service workers covers the costumed performers who perform as Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters, bus drivers, culinary workers, lifeguards, theatrical workers and hotel housekeepers, representing more than half of the 70,000-plus workforce at Disney World. The contract approved five years ago made Disney the first major employer in central Florida to agree to a minimum hourly wage of $15, setting the trend for other workers in the region dominated by hospitality jobs.
The contract proposal with the largest group of workers at the resort comes at a precarious time for Disney World. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature recently passed legislation giving the Republican governor the power to appoint the governing board of the district that oversees government services for the 27,000-acre (11,000-hectare) resort. The board previously had been controlled by Disney.
The takeover of the Disney district began last year when the entertainment giant, facing intense pressure, publicly opposed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay" legislation, which bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and lessons deemed not age-appropriate.
DeSantis has built a national reputation as a culture warrior ahead of an expected GOP presidential run.
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