Disney Drama Escalates, Employees Walk Out

Things are getting heady at the Happiest Place on Earth: walk-outs, labor disputes and premiere crashing.

Back in February, 10 Disney employees with the UniteHere Local 11 Union fasted for a week, in an attempt to bring attention to unfair work practices. More than 2,000 employees had been working without a contract for about two years, after Disney and the union failed to agree on contract negotiations.

Nearly four months later, the dispute still isn't settled and both sides are using tougher tactics to come out on top.

The most recent string of events centers around MaryAnn Hegner, a Disneyland Resort Hotel employee of 23 years. Back when she was hired, she says, she was only one of two female bartenders slinging Mickey's booze
to exhausted parents looking for their own dose of pixie dust.

has also been an outspoken union member. Previously, her union affiliation never clashed with her long-standing work relationship. This changed after she went to her managers with a
complaint on the behalf of a coworker concerning a seniority issue.

Two days later, she was fired.

“The alligation was that she called a co-worker an asshole,” says union spokesperson Leigh Shelton. “It's a he said, she said thing.”

Hegner says it never happened and that Disney can't prove it did. Shelton adds that when an employee is found to have used such language, Disney's typical response is to issue a warning or a short suspension. 

Hegner filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, (NLRB) and the Local 11 Union is waiting to hear back. In the meantime, a group of about 250 workers for three Disneyland Resort hotels walked out of work on Friday in support of Hegner as well as the union's ongoing contractual struggles with their employer. 

Shelton says Disney offered to bring Hegner back, on the condition that she take a suspension and sign papers admitting to fault and freeing the company of all liability. Hegner refused.

Speaking of contracts…

The sacking of Hegner comes on the tail of a small loss for Disney at the hands of the union. The group of fasters at the Anaheim resort were protesting their increased work load following a refurbishment of the hotels and their inability to renegotiate without a contract with Disney. A complaint on their behalf was also filed with the NLRB. Last week the board decided the complaint was valid, agreeing that fair practices dictates that Disney needs to renegotiate quotas after increasing the workload.

A hearing before the NLRB on the matter is scheduled for February. 

In the meantime, the union is adopting some more extreme tactics to let Disney lovers know about the sour employee-and-employer relations. Shelton says that Local 11 Union protestors crashed the Prince of Persia premier, holding signs and screaming at the stars. Similarly disruptive, image-tarnishing actions are planned for the future.

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