By MIKE SCHNEIDER
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Starting pay for service workers at Walt Disney World is rising to $18 an hour under a tentative deal reached between the company and its unions. The three dollar hourly increase could set a new standard for starting pay throughout central Florida’s sprawling tourism industry.
Unions vote next Wednesday on the deal. The pact would cover 45,000 service employees covered by six unions making up the Service Trades Council Union coalition, which earlier rejected an offer that fell short of the $18 hourly minimum wage. Workers could see their hourly wages rise between $5.50 and $8.60 by the end of the five-year contract if it’s approved, union leaders said.
“Securing an $18 minimum hourly rate this year, increasing the overall economic value of Disney’s original offer, and ensuring full back pay for every worker are the priorities union members were determined to fight for,” said Matt Hollis, head of the coalition of unions. “Today, we won that fight.”
Disney said in a statement that the tentative deal also included “industry-leading” benefits in health insurance coverage and tuition reimbursement.
“Our cast members are central to Walt Disney World’s enduring magic, which is why we are pleased to have reached this tentative agreement,” Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in the statement.
The contract with the service workers covers the costumed performers who perform as Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters, bus drivers, culinary workers, lifeguards, theatrical workers and hotel housekeepers, representing more than half of the 70,000-plus workforce at Disney World. The contract approved five years ago made Disney the first major employer in central Florida to agree to a minimum hourly wage of $15, setting the trend for other workers in the region dominated by hospitality jobs.
The contract proposal with the largest group of workers at the resort comes at a precarious time for Disney World. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature recently passed legislation giving the Republican governor the power to appoint the governing board of the district that oversees government services for the 27,000-acre (11,000-hectare) resort. The board previously had been controlled by Disney.
The takeover of the Disney district began last year when the entertainment giant, facing intense pressure, publicly opposed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and lessons deemed not age-appropriate.
DeSantis has built a national reputation as a culture warrior ahead of an expected GOP presidential run.