Walt Disney World agreed Thursday to pay employees for forced days off during Hurricane Irma, just minutes before a union rally started under the entrance sign that says, “Where Dreams Come True.”
More than 100 union cast members chanted “Yes, we can” and “We win when we fight,” after the announcement was made.
“Ten minutes ago, a rep at Disney called union leaders and said they decided to pay all cast members for lost shifts,” said Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here Local 362. “It clearly shows Disney and the unions can work together to resolve their issues.”
Clinton added that he hoped the resolution was a sign that the Services Trade Council will be able to negotiate higher wages for cast members. The council includes six unions that represent 38,000 Disney employees.
Union leaders are in negotiations for an accelerated hourly wage increase from $10 to $15.71. Their next meeting is Tuesday. At their first meeting Aug. 28, Disney offered a raise of 25 cents an hour.
Disney workers’ last raise was from $8.03 to $10 an hour in 2014.
The company received flak last year when it refused to pay employees for the day and a half the theme park closed during Hurricane Matthew. Disney CEO Bob Iger told investors that the closure cost about $40 million in lost revenue. Disney reported $16.9 billion in revenue last year from its parks and resorts around the world.
Leslie Rodriguez was relieved to hear the news. A tree fell during the hurricane and crushed her car. She also lost $150 in groceries when the power went out.
“Now I can buy food, pay for an Uber to work and repair my car,” said Rodriguez, a housekeeper at the Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort.
The news was welcomed by the crowd, which a few minutes before the announcement were chanting, “I work, I sweat, put two days in my paycheck.”
One man wore a T-shirt that said, “Hey Mickey, where’s my dream?”
The storm has taken a heavy toll on low-wage theme park workers who lost shifts Sunday and Monday when Walt Disney World closed.
Pam Santiago said she’ll use the money to pay her $5,000 insurance deductible to fix her pool screen and shingles on her roof that were damaged during the storm. She said she barely has $100 in her checking account.
“I had no vacation time left because I used it all after my car accident,” said the mother of three, a food server at Be Our Guest Restaurant who makes $12 an hour after working at Disney for 14 years.
The unions made the request for hurricane pay on Tuesday as the extent of the storm’s impact became clear.
Disney had informed the unions that it will pay lost wages to thousands of non-unionized student cast members in the College Program as well as seasonal and clerical employees, but not to the unionized full-time and part-time workers.
Walt Disney World did not return a reporter’s request for a comment.