On Friday afternoon, Disneyland Resort workers arrived at the downtown Anaheim office of Workers United Local 50. They flipped through folders to study the particulars of a tentative agreement reached by the union and the company after months of negotiating. Representing 7,500 food and beverage workers at the theme parks, Workers United was the last big union without a contract bringing minimum wages to $15 per hour, but carried on with their seemingly forgotten fight.
Josue Luna, a 22-year-old order cook at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante slipped his “yes” vote into a black ballot box at the office after having asked union president Chris Duarte a few questions about sick time policy, his lone concern. “Our union is doing their job here,” Luna tells the Weekly. “They got us to $15 per hour, just like the rest.”
By the time all ballots had been tallied on Monday, members overwhelming voted to approve the contract lifting wages. By its terms and his classification, Luna will actually be making more than the minimum. Starting this month, his salary rises to $17.25 per hour, better than the $12.20 he made when washing dishes for Disney two years ago.
Before September, many unions already secured a minimum wage of $15 per hour for their Disneyland Resort workers. Last summer, the company settled a contract with the Master Services Council just before a planned a “Shantyland” hunger strike. Comprised of four major unions, the council represented 10,000 workers. Next, the Mouse House agreed to raise wages for Unite Here Local 11, a hotel workers union. The trend continued into the new year with security guards getting a much-needed boost in pay.
Even though Anaheim voters passed Measure L in November, a living wage law aimed at companies with “tax rebate” agreements, the city exempted Disneyland from it on account of City Council having terminated two such subsidies before the ballot at the company’s request. Many food service workers still under contract through 2020 started the year making the state minimum wage and Workers United’s office hosted monthly food banks for its members.
“All the waiting for a raise frustrated a lot of cast members,” says Luna. “We saw a wage increase in all the other departments.” He tried explaining the nuance of contract terms to coworkers while remaining patient himself.
Sensing unease, Duarte asked Disney to discuss wages for his workers much earlier than Workers United’s contract expiration date. The company agreed to do so in the framework of negotiations. With a slight delay, both sides came to the table in good faith earlier this year. But Duarte didn’t want to meet that gesture with any immediate concessions in return.
“Getting to $15 per hour was always our bottom line,” he says from his office. “We were fairly confident that the company would meet us there.”
And Disney did, with little haggle. The first raises proposed by the company included $15 per hour minimum wage. But they wanted something in return in the form of controlling paid time off, especially sick days. “We, essentially, don’t have a sick pay cap,” says Duarte. “We weren’t going to give up more than anyone else to get the same as everyone else. No other union we are aware of has given it up. We didn’t want to be the first one to break rank on an issue that all the unions benefit from.”
The union rejected a hard cap of 200 hours of sick time and workers will retain control of asking for sick days to cover any call outs as opposed to the company automatically withdrawing them. Workers United did make concessions, as with attendance policy, but none described as “major” by leadership.
Duarte, who played a pivotal role in devising the Measure L strategy, credits the living wage campaign, whose election push launched from Workers United’s headquarters a year ago this month, for providing necessary leverage. “It created pressure within the company to act,” he says. “Once that started rolling, the company didn’t fight unions at the negotiating table to avoid what Measure L meant. They made the adjustment and did the right thing.”
The new four-year deal will raise minimum wages for new hires to $16.45 per hour by 2022, $1.45 more than the state’s required minimum that year but shy of $18 per hour that the living wage law’s escalator topped out at. But if current workers stay with the company through the duration of the contract, they’ll make $17.50 per hour on Sept. 1, 2022, two quarters shy of the exempted law.
“Overwhelmingly, the amount of help that people are going to see is life-changing,” says Duarte. “We’re happy about it.”
That’s the feeling Luna left the office with after casting his ballot.
“With these wage increases, people are going to be more willing to move up,” the order cook says. “It obviously gives me a more positive outlook. I’m going to have more money for my bills.”
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!