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Disney is proposing up to a 2.5 percent salary increase for current employees in its next deal with union workers, while freezing the starting minimum wage at $10 an hour for new workers.
A union coalition that represents 38,000 workers, or more than half of Walt Disney World employees, declined to give specific details of its counterproposal other than it aims to raise the average salary of employees from $11.28 an hour up to $15.71.
Disney said that with overtime and premium pay, the average salary is closer to $13.34 an hour.
With the wages of thousands of people at stake after the current agreement expires in 2019, the two sides met for the first time at the bargaining table Monday.
It’s something that affects the entire community in Central Florida,” said Jeremy Haicken, president of Unite Here Local 737 during a news conference at a Kissimmee hotel after Monday’s discussions had ended. “Everybody knows somebody who works at Disney. There’s a lot of interest in this negotiation.”
The 38,000 employees represented by Service Trades Council Union are part of six locals and hold a wide variety of jobs from attraction workers to bus drivers, hotel housekeeping and park custodians.
“Our starting Cast Members currently earn nearly $2 more an hour than Florida’s minimum wage for entry level jobs,” Disney said in a statement. “We will continue to negotiate in good faith with the union to reach a fair and reasonable agreement.”
Haicken said the union’s proposal was a “significant increase” but important to improve employees’ standard of living.
The new round of negotiations center on a wage reopener only. However, if no agreement is reached by Oct. 24, other benefits in the contracts can be discussed.
After the most recent negotiations in 2014, Disney raised the starting wage from $8.03 to $10 by 2016 for hourly workers.
Only about 2,100 of the unionized workforce is paid more than $15 per hour, according to the union.
Historically, others in the tourism industry have followed suit when Disney increased workers’ wages.
In 2015, Universal Orlando Resort — which is not unionized — announced it was also giving employees a raise and raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour for employees in 2016.