Disney World Workers Turn Down Offer

From Times Wire Services

Walt Disney Co. employees at the company's Florida theme park rejected a contract offer that union leaders said wasn't generous enough.

A majority voted to turn down the offer that affects about 13,000 workers at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Disney World spokeswoman Diane Ledder said.

"If we have to go back to the bargaining table we will," Ledder said earlier. "We're confident we'll get a contract."

Hotel and restaurant staff, ride operators and workers who play characters such as Mickey Mouse are among those covered by the contract. The two sides said they will return to the bargaining table next week.

Union leaders want larger raises for their members and more generous pension and health-care benefits than Burbank-based Disney has offered, said Harvey Totzke, president of the Service Trades Council. The council represents six of the park's unions. A federal mediator may be called in to help with negotiations, he said.

The contract covers almost 25,000 of Disney World's 55,000 employees, including those who play Mickey Mouse, Snow White and other costumed characters. Also included are bus drivers, hotel and restaurant employees, laundry workers, lifeguards, seamstresses and animal caretakers.

"Always, they give us little," said Orlando Ortiz, a Disney World bus driver who voted against the proposal because it increases his health insurance co-payment. "Every year, they take more and more out."

Harvey Totzke, president of Service Trades Council, the umbrella group for the unions, has called the proposal "a slap in the face."

Disney spokeswoman Rena Callahan wouldn't comment on the specifics of the proposal, but said, "We're optimistic that we'll come to an agreement by the end of this process."

During the last labor negotiations in 1998, Disney workers rejected a contract proposal twice before approving it on the third try. Union leaders had endorsed the 1998 proposal.

Only about half of the eligible workers are union members, so the unions don't have the strength to call a successful strike.

A federal mediator probably will be called in next week to help with negotiations.

The unions had been seeking a 16% wage increase over the course of the three-year contract.

The company instead proposed a hodgepodge of raises and bonuses.

Under that plan, workers at the top of the hourly pay scale would get a 1.5% wage increase and $2,900 in bonuses over three years. Workers who receive tips, such as waiters, would receive $900 in bonuses over three years.

Workers not at the top of the pay scale who were working for the company before December 1998 would get a 5.5% wage increase over the life of the contract. Workers not at the top of the pay scale who started working after December 1998 would get a 9% to 11% increase over three years, depending on when their anniversary date with the company falls.

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