It wasn’t exactly glad tidings for the holiday, but the workers of the world of Disney cheered loudly in late December as they voted overwhelmingly to reject the company’s latest contract offer for its thousands of Orlando service employees. The workers chose to demand more negotiations rather than settle for a miserly wage offer, even if it meant heading into the new year with more uncertainty.
The political climate has raised the stakes for the wage talks, as Florida’s massive hospitality workforce has been besieged by a brutal storm season, stagnant wages amid soaring costs of living, and, under Trump, an onslaught of federal immigration crackdowns. Disney, meanwhile, is rounding out a banner year with a deal to take over the 21st Century Fox empire.
According to the contract schedule, the union can renegotiate wages now as part of a contract renewal in 2019. Disney’s last offer for a pay increase fell short of the demand from the union, UNITE HERE’s Service Trades Council, for a $15 starting hourly wage. Currently only about one in eight of the 38,000 union workers, including some 10,000 hospitality and housekeeping staffers, along with cast members and ride operators, earns $15 an hour. The last wage hike at Disney inched up starting pay from $8.03 to $10.
The company’s current proposal would increase raises from 6 to 10 percent over two years, resulting in a boost in the floor wage of about 50 cents annually, and even less for higher-paid workers. The union has been pushing for living wages for months, pointing out that many resort workers are being pushed into homelessness. While Disney previously promised to work toward “fair and equitable” terms in the negotiations, workers drew the line in early December, rejecting Disney’s bid by a vote of 9,117 to 643.
While wage negotiations remain in limbo, the situation is even more complex for the Haitian immigrants in Disney’s workforce: The Trump administration is moving, over the coming months, to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for tens of thousands of immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, and other countries who have lived and worked in the United States under special protections following massive environmental and social catastrophes in their homelands. Though the system is highly precarious, over the years many immigrants from the Global South have used the temporary status to gain legal employment and sustain financial ties to disaster-stricken countries. Overall, TPS holders from Haiti have contributed an estimated $2.8 billion to Haiti’s GDP over a decade. Their remittances provide not only a massive infusion of much-needed cash for Haiti’s deeply impoverished economy—still not recovered from the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake—but also support vital diaspora communities in the United States. Roughly half of the 110,000 Haitian migrants residing in the US are here on TPS.