According to the Orlando Sentinel around 60% of cast members at the Walt Disney World Resort are unionized. The members of the largest union account for 30% of all Disney World employees alone. It also represents a pretty sizable chunk of the front line workers in the parks and resorts. Negotiations on a new contract have just got underway for that largest group.
It’s too early to talk strike but by all accounts there is a lot of distance between the two sides. Disney has on its side the fact that it has been many moons since there was a major strike that was successfully resolved in the favor of the employees (Las Vegas hotel workers (which is a good model to copy for Disney employees) and Houston (which is just the start of union power there) were the last). Indeed the last contract negotiations in Orlando resulted in what Union officials considered a poor offering from the company, but was accepted by cast members who just didn’t have the stomach for a strike during which they would be without pay and which the company would likely weather well without them.
The union employees have on their side the fact that Central Florida has an unemployment rate of under 3%. There is also some new motivation now that Disney has begun to outsource what were previously union jobs to companies who pay their workers less and provide fewer benefits. And then there is the matter that Disney has been forced to work their employees long hours and in often random shifts (with many of the best shifts going to the rookie College Program interns (who aren’t part of the union)). It’s resulting in a lot of angry and frustrated cast members (and also a lot of cast members who just quit and took a better paying job elsewhere in the growing economy).
The 3% unemployment has put Disney in a hard position. They outsourced those jobs because they needed to spread their labor hours more wisely and they found a company that would provide the same staffing at a lower cost and not devour Disney’s labor pool. (We’ll leave aside the Disney customer service philosophy issue for now). They’ve been forced to work Employees long hours and weird shifts because they can’t hire enough employees and those they do hire often have low retention rates or some HR policy compromise (don’t speak English fluently, visible tattoos, etc). The option Disney does not seem willing to try is to pay more and train better.
What happens next is pure speculation on my part. But I don’t see the company agreeing to the unions terms that Disney stop outsourcing, raise pay and benefits, and provide better hours and scheduling for longer term employees. In fact, I expect Disney ask for more concessions from the employees after the success they had at the trough in the last negotiations. So it comes down to how much sand the cast members have this year? Will the union be able to provide a coalition of other unions (they’re a subpart of the Teamsters) that will grind business at the Walt Disney Resort to a halt so fast that Disney will have to make concessions? Can they build the support of the public for their cause? The union and its cast members are in a stronger position than ever before? Will it be enough?