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

“As a community, we have respected Local 11’s right to protest,” read a letter posted on its website. “However, when their actions adversely impact the livelihood of workers, sustainability of local businesses and funding for city services, we must speak out.”

“On some level, every community is a company town, and in Anaheim, we don’t send our men and boys into a coal mine,” Ward says. “Unite Here’s tactics negatively impact the vacations of our visitors, whose dollars make our city run.” She scoffs at the union’s demands for health care, noting, “Benefits are being cut for everyone. For anyone to think they’re going to be insulated from that, they’re not going to be reality-based.

“These people consistently shoot themselves in the foot and somehow through the pain have the presence to reload and fire again,” she concludes. “When I see them shutting down streets, that makes the community look foolish—and that’s not a way to get the community behind you.”

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

*     *     *

Eric Altman knows a great labor fight when he sees one. For 15 years, he worked for HERE and Unite Here in Los Angeles, and he helped the union not only employ in-your-face protests during contract negotiations, but also win face-off after face-off. He’s now executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), which works with Orange County neighborhoods to try to forge community-benefits agreements with developers, and is following the Unite Here-Disney standoff closely—not least because OCCORD’s offices are next door to Unite Here and the union also helped to found his organization.

“Orange County isn’t Los Angeles, and what worked up there doesn’t necessarily work down here,” Altman admits. But he doesn’t believe Local 11’s tactics have hurt its cause. “ [Unite Here’s] tactics have been used not just by the labor movement, but by social movements for decades. They don’t backfire at all. It’s what people need to do when their livelihood is at stake and their issues need to addressed. It’ll work.”

Disney also feels “optimistic that we’ll be able to come to a resolution,” Brown says. “This is the only union that we haven’t been able to have a resolution with recently. I don’t know why. Disney has a long history of positive relationships with our unions. We are able to work with unions and successfully negotiate with contracts. [Unite Here] is certainly the exception to the rule.”

Meanwhile, all that the Unite Here members can do is show up to the job. “We try to keep their concept that the guest is No. 1,” Shevlian says. “A guest once told me during a work stoppage that they keep coming back because of the treatment. ‘Mickey Mouse doesn’t serve my bagel,’ he said. ‘You do.’”

She gets up to leave. The Unite Here offices have nearly emptied as the workers return to the Magic Kingdom, another day without any progress. The nearly three-year struggle is weighing on their ranks, members acknowledge, but they remain in good spirits and are confident they’ll win a contract sans Disney’s health-care proposal.

“It’s a microcosm of what’s happening in America,” Maitland says. “What makes this important is that Disney is the symbol of what’s supposed to make America great. But Disney is starting to become the American nightmare. They’re seeking to eliminate the middle class, down to every last drop. That’s why it’s so symbolic. We’re not being unreasonable.”

This article appeared in print as "Bringing Down the Mouse: Inside the acrimonious, two-and-a-half-years-long—and counting—fight between Disneyland and its hotel workers."

« Previous Page