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Disneyland Resort workers approve contract that raises the minimum hourly wage to $15 by next year

Disneyland Resort workers approve contract that raises the minimum hourly wage to $15 by next year
Disneyland workers from a variety of unions protest the lack of progress of negotiations with Walt Disney Co. on July 3, 2018. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Unions representing nearly 10,000 workers at the Disneyland Resort ended a months-long labor dispute by voting overwhelmingly Thursday in favor of a three-year contract that raises hourly wages by as much as 20% immediately and an additional 13% in January.

The employees — including candy makers, custodians, retail workers, attraction operators and others — voted nearly 75% in favor of an offer that raises the minimum hourly rate of $11 to $13.25 immediately and to $15 starting in January, three years before California’s minimum wage is scheduled to reach that level. An increase to $15.50 an hour is slated for June 2020.

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Resort employees with higher salaries, such as truck drivers, would get more modest wage increases, with workers who earn $20 an hour receiving a raise of 60 cents an hour immediately and an additional 75 cents in January. Hourly pay would increase to $21.99 in June 2020.

All workers will get a retroactive pay increase of either 3% or 50 cents an hour, whichever is greater, back to June 17, 2018.

The contract applies to workers in four unions at Disneyland, California Adventure Park and the nearby shopping district.

A summary of Disney’s offer says the contract will give workers more flexibility to take vacation in smaller increments and improve the procedure that allows part-time workers to get full-time positions. The deal also requires Disney to give specific reasons for terminating or suspending a worker and increases the minimum time between shifts from nine hours to 10.

“Disneyland Resort has long taken pride in providing an exceptional employee experience, and this agreement sets a new bar with minimum wages that are among the highest in the country. Our unprecedented offer shows our commitment and care for our cast members and is the largest increase in our history,” said Josh D’Amaro, president of Disneyland Resort. “Our cast members are at the heart of making our guests’ dreams come true, and this meaningful pay increase reflects the valuable roles they play at the resort.”

Union bargaining committee member Artemis Bell said that “its important for Disney, as the largest employer in Orange County, to recognize the struggles workers go through as the cost of living continues to rise in the area.”

Bell, a Disneyland night shift custodian, said, “With this contract, we are one step closer to a better situation for thousands of employees who put so much energy and heart into their jobs.”

Union officials said Disney had offered a raise to $15 an hour several months ago, but the leadership of the labor group rejected the proposal because it included cuts to job perks and forced the unions to turn to arbitration to resolve future disputes.

“It is truly a historic day in Orange County,” said Lucy Dunn, chief executive of the Orange County Business Council. “OCBC commends Disney for its corporate leadership and continuing investment in its employees and the community.”

For Walt Disney Co., the contract approval resolves only one labor headache.

The unions have collected enough signatures to place on the Nov. 6 ballot in Anaheim a measure that would require the Disneyland Resort and the other hospitality businesses that have accepted city subsidies to pay workers a minimum of $15 an hour starting Jan. 1, with salaries rising $1 an hour every Jan. 1 through 2022. Once the wage reaches $18 an hour, annual raises then would be tied to the cost of living.

The ballot measure, if approved, would supersede any union contract, at least for the raises that the law would require each Jan. 1. In addition, the contract approved Thursday addresses the salaries of about a third of the 30,000 workers in the resort; the ballot measure would set a minimum hourly wage for all workers in the resort.

Disney officials and other Anaheim business leaders have formed a coalition to defeat the measure, arguing that the mandated higher salaries will discourage future investment in the city and kill proposed projects, such as a luxury 700-room hotel near Disneyland.

The unions have been pressuring Disneyland to increase salaries for months, starting in February when they commissioned a survey of 5,000 workers that found that 73% of Disneyland Resort employees questioned don't earn enough to pay for such expenses as rent, food and gas. Disney has rejected the study as biased and inaccurate.

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Even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders jumped into the fray, speaking at a rally for union workers in Anaheim in June. The former presidential candidate got Sen. Elizabeth Warren and 21 other Democratic lawmakers to sign a letter to Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger urging him to tap the company’s hefty profit to pay his resort workers a living wage.

July 27, 3:50 p.m.: This article was updated with the percentage of workers who voted in favor of the contract.

July 26, 11:10 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Disneyland Resort President Josh D’Amaro, a statement from a union representative as well as with additional detail about the voting process.

This article was originally published at 10:25 p.m.

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