Throughout the day, workers stuffed a big ballot box at the Lincoln Theater inside Disneyland where an animatronic Honest Abe has entertained park goers for decades. By nighttime, voters belonging to a council of four unions approved a new three-year Master Services contract on Thursday that includes significant increases for thousands of minimum wage earners. Workers making $11 an hour will see their pay improve to a $15 hourly wage come January 1, 2019–the same rate and effective date as the first proposed hike under a living wage ballot measure for subsidized resort companies before Anaheim voters in November.
The Disneyland Resort and the Master Services Council reached the tentative agreement on Monday night on the eve of a planned week-long “Shantyland” hunger strike. Workers only received paperwork disclosing the terms yesterday with a majority casting their vote approvingly.
“It’s important for Disney, as the largest employer in Orange County, to recognize the struggles workers go through as the cost of living continues to rise in the area,” says Artemis Bell, a Disneyland night shift custodian and union bargaining committee member. “With this contract, we are one step closer to a better situation for thousands of employees who put so much energy and heart into their jobs.”
The Master Services Council is comprised of Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324, Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union Local 83 and Teamsters Automotive, Industrial, Theme Park, Service Sector, and Allied Workers Local 495. It represents nearly 10,000 workers, or a third of the Disneyland Resort’s workforce.
Disney previously publicized an offer to raise pay to $15 an hour by 2020. The new contract reaches that threshold a year sooner and three years before the state minimum wage increases to the same rate. Workers already making more than $15 an hour get 3 percent annual pay increases over the course of the contract.
“Disneyland Resort has long taken pride in providing an exceptional employee experience, and this agreement sets a new bar with minimum wages that are among the highest in the country,” says Josh D’Amaro, president of the Disneyland Resort. “Our unprecedented offer shows our commitment and care for our cast members and is the largest increase in our history. Our cast members are at the heart of making our guests’ dreams come true and this meaningful pay increase reflects the valuable roles they play at the resort.”
Despite a chorus of congratulatory comments, not all are pleased. Michael Wain has worked at Disneyland as a custodian for 19 years but makes just under $15 an hour. “The unions kept telling us they were going to fight for the senior cast members which didn’t seem to happen,” says Wain, a SEIU-USWW member. “Come January 1, when this goes through, I’m going to be making a little over a dollar more than what a new hire will make. It’s very demoralizing to a lot of the senior cast members around here.”
Wain voted against approving the contract. The overall percentages of yesterday’s vote haven’t been disclosed.
The plight of the Disneyland Resort’s working poor came into sharp focus earlier this year when 11 union locals banded together as the Coalition of Resort Labor Unions and commissioned a study of wages and living conditions. The results fueled an international media firestorm against the House of the Mouse with harrowing statistics showing that 85 percent of the Disneyland Resort’s workforce made less than $15 an hour. Another jarring finding from the Occidental College and Economic Roundtable survey noted 11 percent of workers having experienced homelessness in the past two years.
With momentum following the report’s release, the Coalition announced a living wage campaign for taxpayer subsidized corporations, like Disney, in the Anaheim Resort. Having qualified for the November ballot, the ordinance proposes an immediate wage increase to $15 an hour in 2019 with dollar-a-year raises bringing the minimum wage to $18 an hour by 2022. Unions with the Coalition and the Master Services Council overlap, save for the Teamsters. Thousands of minimum wage workers, from housekeepers to security guards, are unaffected by the contract agreement.
Prominent opponents of the living wage ballot measure warned in the past that pay increases would lead to the elimination of full-time positions, automation and other perils at Disney theme parks. After last night’s contract vote, those same voices are now hailing what the Disneyland Resort is saying will be “one of the highest minimum wages” in the nation. “This is a great day for Anaheim and shows what happens when business and labor sit down constructively,” says Todd Ament, president of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. “This shows that the destructive living wage initiative on the ballot in Anaheim, which benefits very few workers but causes great harm across all of Anaheim, is not needed.”
The Resort Elite’s trusty labor lieutenants also chimed in with similar words of praise for the Master Services Council contract while waving a finger at the living wage ballot campaign. “As we’ve said from the very beginning, the path toward progress for working people, including better wages and a higher quality of life, is through collective bargaining,” says Ron Miller, executive secretary of the LA/OC Building and Construction Trades Council. “One does not need to go to the ballot box to improve the quality of life for workers.”
But the Coalition firmly believes the narrative advanced by the commissioned report and living wage campaign played a role in the contract agreement, one they’ve congratulated their fellow union brothers and sisters on. And the march to the ballot box in November continues.
“This contract only covers approximately 10,000 Disneyland employees, just 39 percent of the total workers in the Anaheim Resort Area, leaving approximately 15,000 workers still struggling to make ends meet,” a statement from the Coalition reads. “If Disney can pay some of its employees a base pay of $15 per hour, they can pay all of their employees $15 per hour.”
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.