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The Disneyland Resort and four labor unions have approved a three-year deal that would raise the hourly minimum wage for 9,700 employees to $15 by January 2019, and includes a 3% raise for employees that earn a wage at or above that threshold.

Disney and the four unions that are part of the Master Services Council announced the deal was approved Thursday evening after a full day of voting by union members at the Lincoln Theater in Los Angeles. The agreement includes changes to policies regarding seniority and paid days off for union members.

Upon ratification Thursday, the minimum hourly wage for workers immediately increased to $13.25.

“It is going to make paying my bills a lot easier – things have been very tight for the last couple of years,” said Artemis Bell, a custodian at the Disneyland Resort for the past seven years. Bell is an Anaheim resident in District 2, and a member of the Service Employees International Union – United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW) included in the contract agreement.

“Hopefully with the raise, I can get back on track with paying my bills on time…and put some money into an emergency account so things aren’t so desperate anymore,” she said.

The vote comes amid a heated campaign by Disneyland and hospitality worker unions to pass a ballot initiative in November that would require city-subsidized businesses within the Anaheim Resort to pay a minimum wage of $18 an hour by 2022, and increase that wage based on cost of living increases each year thereafter.

The agreement was announced earlier this week just before workers were expected to launch a four-day hunger-strike across the street from the theme park, including a tent city resembling a homeless encampment where striking workers would rest during the day. The initiative has also attracted the support of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who participated in a roundtable discussion and rally with workers in June.

A broader coalition of Disneyland worker unions commissioned a report, released earlier this year, which found nearly three-quarters of surveyed workers struggle to pay for basic needs. One in ten said they have experienced homelessness.

Disney has disputed that report, calling it biased and inaccurate.

In a statement released to media, Disney called the wage deal the most significant in its history and emphasized the company’s commitment to its employees.

With 30,000 employees, the Disneyland Resort is Orange County’s largest employer and generates $5.7 billion for the Southern California economy, according to Disney’s estimates.

“While companies alone cannot solve the complex issues that lead to the high cost of living, Disneyland is committed to being part of the solution and this industry-leading offer reflects a long-term commitment and investment in the team,” the Disneyland statement reads.

If the initiative passes, Disneyland and the other companies it applies to would be required to pay the higher minimum wage. The Disneyland Resort has 26 unions representing nearly 23,000 cast members, about 75% of its total workforce. The initiative would affect all employees, whether they are represented by a union or not.

At least one other company, the Wincome Group, would also be affected by the initiative. The Wincome Group is slated to receive an estimated $300 million in taxpayer subsidies if it successfully builds and opens two, four diamond luxury hotels in Anaheim.

Andrew Hagelshaw, spokesman for the SEIU-USWW, said the new contract is a major step forward for employees, but the union will continue to support the wage initiative.

“We will continue to strongly support the ordinance. Many of our workers will benefit from it, even with our new contract,” said Andrew Hagelshaw, spokesman for the SEIU chapter that was a part of the agreement. “A true living wage in Orange County is higher than $15/hour.”

A coalition of local businesses in the Anaheim Resort have mobilized a “No on the Anaheim Job Killer Initiative” to oppose the initiative, arguing the initiative would drive out new investors, kill hotel deals that are expected to generate thousands of new construction jobs and punish a few companies for affordability issues that exist statewide.

They also argue the initiative has the potential to affect small businesses within the Anaheim Resort and have accused the unions of using the ballot measure as a negotiating tactic to achieve a more favorable contract with Disneyland and the Wincome Group.

Hagelshaw said recent negotiations and the new contract are not connected to the union’s push for the living wage ordinance. He said the agreement does not ask or require unions to drop support for the ordinance.

The Disneyland Resort is currently in active negotiations with two other unions: UNITE-HERE Local 11, which represents about 2,700 employees, and the American Guild of Variety Artists, which represents 300 performers.

At a city council meeting July 31, Anaheim City Councilwoman Kris Murray, who opposes the wage initiative, is proposing changes to the 75-word ballot question that will appear before voters on Nov. 6.

Bell, the custodian, believes workers deserve to make at least $18 an hour if not more.

“I do think our cast members deserve to be making a living wage when they work for one of the most profitable companies in the area,” said Bell.

Shareholders Friday approved a $71 billion merger between the Walt Disney Company and 21st Century Fox, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger made $36.3 million in 2017, down from $43.9 million the previous year, according to the Los Angeles Times. Disney shareholders rejected a more generous compensation plan, worth $48.5 million a year for four years, for Iger earlier this year.  

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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