Last night, around 6 p.m., eight Disney hotel workers broke their week-long fast. Hundreds of picketing supporters filled Disneyland Drive after the street was closed to traffic. Councilwoman Lori Galloway spoke to the crowd from a podium surrounded by fasters in wheelchairs eating bread and drinking apple juice--and not a moment too soon.
Faster Richard Silva had been driving his cohorts crazy all week by listing his many cravings, ranging from nachos to Hawaiian food. Another faster had food on the brain for a different reason.
"My legs felt like Jell-O," said Jorge Iniestra, "I couldn't stand up."
The two-year battle with Disney over the union's health care didn't end with the first nibbles of food in Anaheim. Today, five more workers from UNITE HERE Local Union 11 began fasting in front of Disney's corporate headquarters in Burbank.
The fasts are intended to bring attention to an ongoing conflict pitting the workers' desire to stick with the free health plan their union provides (and they've kept in lieu of pay raises) against Disney's desire to have them sign up for the corporate plan that deducts fees from their paychecks.
Via press release, Disney spokeswoman Suzie Brown said that the plan being offered will provide "high-quality, affordable and stable health care for Cast Members and their families." The union argues that raising heath costs will eventually make the fee unaffordable.
Thus, in spite of the fast, both sides are still in the stalemate that has kept them from renegotiating the workers contract since it expired in 2008. Though both sides have agreed to federal mediation, neither has committed to a date, and no one appears willing to bring something new to the table, if they ever get there.
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Union spokesperson Leigh Shelton hopes bringing the struggle to Burbank will gain fresh attention from more sympathetic ears.
"These are new people who can assert some pressure," said Shelton, "and their heels are less dug in."
It's unclear how long the fasters will stay at their new digs. But even Shelton admits it can't go on forever. The union has no plans to send out a third round of fasters after this one folds.
Check here for more updates from the union. And wish the newbies good luck and no Jell-O dreams.