Disney's Hotel-Workers' Union Is Still Trying to Bring Down the Mouse

After some two-and-a-half years of stalled negotiations and street theater, a new labor deal still seems like Fantasyland

Not all Unite Here members participated. Rosario Hernandez is a shift leader in the Grand Californian’s custodial department, in which she has worked since 2003. “Disney takes care of us,” she says. “They even have stores with discounts for cast members. “And for our ‘leaders’ to put us against them is unjust. They worry about politics when they should worry about us. They’re playing with our salaries and our lives. None of the workers I know here joined those protests. They’re like a circus.”

“We wish they would put the same energy into trying to come to an agreement as they have into protesting,” Brown remarks.

Behind the scenes, the two sides have barely spoken. Unite Here members overwhelmingly voted down one Disney contract offer in the summer of 2009 by a margin of 92 percent. The last negotiating session was late last year. Even a federal mediator brought in at Disney’s insistence did little to bridge the gap. Asked why Unite Here hasn’t met more often with Disney, Briceño says, “We’re way too far off. There’s no middle ground. We’re so far apart on so many distinct issues it’s hard for us to say if we have five more sessions, we can get there.”

Trevor Keen
Glynndana Sherlin, hostess at the Disneyland Hotel's E-Ticket Club, dressed up for protests
John Gilhooley
Glynndana Sherlin, hostess at the Disneyland Hotel's E-Ticket Club, dressed up for protests

Disney didn’t bother stating its case to the public like Unite Here, outside of media interviews with Brown and other Disney spokespeople. “We don’t talk about negotiations in public, and that’s what we’ve done all along,” Brown offers. Instead, it tried to divide Unite Here’s leaders from its rank-and-file by mailing accusatory fliers and letters to their households and posting the propaganda in break rooms.

In one flier sent in early 2009 that was obtained by the Weekly, Disney claimed that Local 11 “leadership” wasn’t allowing its wards to vote on the contract management proposed. “How Much Money Have YOU Missed Out On?” the flier asked before offering a number: $504, with a Byzantine explanation about how that amount was arrived at. “Every day Local 11 Leadership denied you the chance to vote, it cost you money. . . . The sooner a contract is approved, the sooner you can start receiving the pay raise you deserve!”

Another glossy promised a $1,000 bonus if a contract was agreed to by June 30, 2009, but featured a stopwatch in the background and warned time was running out. “Only you can ask Local 11 Leadership to let you approve the contract,” it stated. Other fliers tried to portray the hotel union as outside the Disney family. On April 29, workers received a letter purporting to pass itself off as a newspaper. Under the 36-point headline “BREAKING NEWS,” the memo shared that 13 other unions had just negotiated a contract that called for pay raises for more than 1,100 Disneyland Resort staffers.

“Unfortunately,” the flier continued, “Unite HERE Local 11 Cast Members have been without a contract for more than two years [underlined in the original] despite Disney’s fair contract offer that included pay raises, bonuses, paid sick leave and affordable health care.”

Brown explains, “We wanted to ensure that the Local 11 membership knew what the offers were and where we were with the negotiations because we weren’t sure they were getting that information from the leadership.” Asked to clarify, she responds, “We want to ensure that they get the correct information.”

But the Disney fliers had the opposite effect. “They made us more of a family,” MaryAnn Hegner says with a laugh. “We all laughed at them. We’re more committed than ever.”

Unite Here responded with its own fliers, some more ingenious than others. One, distributed outside Angels Stadium before the start of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, bore the headline “Anaheim’s Black Eye” alongside an illustration of a frowning Mickey sporting a massive shiner.

“Anaheim tourism workers should be proud to host All-Star weekend, but Disney’s greed is spoiling all the fun,” it read, listing the company’s purported sins against them.

Another told Hegner’s story under the headline “WTF Disney!” with the acronym standing for “Work Toward Fairness” instead of the more common epithet. After telling her story, it concludes, “Who the heck fires a little ol’ bartending grandmother after 20-plus years of service for a supposed slip of the tongue??! The whole thing has left folks saying . . . Disney, WTF!”

Earlier this spring, Unite Here even sent a letter to the organizers of Comic-Con, the massively successful annual convention of all things geek. Internet rumors claimed the festival was looking to relocate from San Diego to the Anaheim Convention Center, one of the largest on the West Coast.

“Local 11 has no position on whether or not Comic-Con should stay in San Diego or move to Los Angeles,” wrote Unite Here Local 11 president Tom Walsh. “We do, however, have very serious concerns about Comic-Con being moved to Anaheim. If you choose to do so, you could find your future events caught in the middle of a bitter labor dispute that could jeopardize their success.”

That move infuriated Cynthia Ward. She’s a longtime Anaheim resident, former head of the Anaheim Historical Society, leader of the Anaheim Colony Historic District residential group and a Disney fanatic. Ward and other major Anaheim movers and shakers—a shortlist included current Mayor Curt Pringle, Orange County Business Council President Lucy Dunn and local business leaders—formed Fight for Anaheim Jobs and earlier this year took the cause public on the Red County blog, to which Ward contributes.

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