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Monday, October 2, 2023
Oct. 2, 2023

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‘We are changing the future:’ Disney World workers approve contract for $18 minimum wage


Disney’s lowest-paid full-time workers will earn at least $18 an hour this year under a contract union members overwhelmingly approved Wednesday.

In a one-day poll, 97% percent of the over 12,500 workers who voted supported a contract proposal that will raise Disney’s minimum wage for full-time workers from $15 to $17 an hour immediately. That rate will increase to $18 an hour in December and $20.50 by the contract’s end in October 2026 for current workers, according to the union.

Union representatives said the contract also introduces eight weeks of paid child bonding leave, a benefit that was not included in the former contract that expired in October. Disney and the unions have been negotiating since Aug. 24.

The deal makes Disney the highest-paying theme park employer in Orlando, Florida. Universal Orlando raised its starting wages to $17 an hour in February, 11 days after Disney union members turned down a contract proposal they said would have given most workers a raise of just $1 year-over-year.

Workers have rallied for an immediate raise to $18 during negotiations. One union, Unite Here Local 737, published a report in November that found the amount is the minimum tourism employees need to make to meet basic needs.

The ballroom at the Wyndham hotel in Kissimmee, where the union held the vote count and announcement, erupted in cheers as Service Trades Council Union President Matt Hollis announced the results around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“Union workers at Disney World set the standard for tourism across the entire region,” Hollis said. “And when union workers win, families across Central Florida see their lives improved. … I’m certain that as we look back in history on this chapter, we will always remember: the union, standing together, made the difference.”

The Service Trades Council Union represents about 45,000 of Disney World’s staff, between full- and part-time workers. The union coalition will return to the bargaining table soon to negotiate a similar contract for the resort’s part-time employees.

“Our cast members have always been at the heart of the Walt Disney World experience, and we are thrilled that, with the support of the union, they have overwhelmingly approved this new five-year agreement that significantly increases wages, alongside our leading benefits program that includes affordable medical coverage and more,” Walt Disney World Resort President Jeff Vahle said in a statement.

Disney’s theme parks division brought in a record revenue of $28.7 billion last fiscal year.

The new contract will increase hourly pay for Disney’s full-time workers by at least $5.50 over its full term. Some employees will receive as much as $8.60 an hour more, according to the union coalition.

Disney World’s frontline staff say this pay increase will make a big difference in their lives. In recent years, some workers have reported sleeping in their cars, living in motels or sharing small apartments with multiple roommates to make ends meet.

Mel Paradiso, a third-shift custodial employee at Animal Kingdom who helped bargain the contract, said last week that the extra pay will make it “a little more comfortable” for her family to pay rent and buy necessities without living paycheck-to-paycheck.

“I have a 6-month-old son, so buying diapers, wipes, all that stuff for him is going to be a little less strenuous,” she said.

Speaking at the vote announcement Wednesday, Animal Kingdom attractions employee Diego Henry congratulated his fellow cast members on their collective achievement.

“When we come together, when we unionize and organize, this is what we can do,” Henry said. “We are changing the future of Central Florida, the state of Florida, right now, tonight. Don’t ever forget.”