Walt Disney World workers reach deal for $15 minimum wage by 2021

Most of the workers make less than $11 an hour.

In this June 15, 2016, file photo, guests appear at the entrance to Disney's Magic Kingdom theme park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
In this June 15, 2016, file photo, guests appear at the entrance to Disney's Magic Kingdom theme park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. –Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP File Photo

Thousands of Walt Disney World employees would receive raises under a new contract settlement between the company and a group of unions that increases the minimum starting pay to $15 an hour by 2021, capping nine months of tense wage negotiations that led to large protests in Central Florida.

The unions, which represent 38,000 service employees at Walt Disney World — about half the total number working at the park — announced the agreement in a statement on Saturday, calling it “historic.”

Most of the workers make less than $11 an hour, said Jeremy Haicken, the president of Local 737, the largest of the six unions at the negotiating table.

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Jessica Lella, 24, a union steward and ride operator at the park’s DinoLand USA, has been working for Disney full time for nearly six years and currently earns $10 an hour, the same rate as a new hire. Now that wages are set to increase, she said, she plans to stay at the company and hopes to start a family in the near future.

“I love working for Disney; it’s just that I couldn’t live off of it,” Lella said. She and her wife currently reside at Lella’s parents’ home to save money. “There’s no doubt that this is going to change people’s lives.”

Members will vote on the new contract on Sept. 5 and 6.

The new contract would gradually raise the minimum pay in $1 increments. By September of next year, the starting wage will reach $13 an hour, followed by $14 in October 2020 and $15 in October 2021, the Service Trades Council Union said in a statement. Those who make more than $10 an hour will receive at least $4.75 in raises by October 2021, the statement said.

The raises are expected to bring an estimated $1 billion of additional wages into Central Florida’s economy during the four-year contract, the Service Trades Council Union said.

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Robbin Almand, vice president of labor relations for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in a statement: “We are thrilled our cast members will have the chance to vote on what is one of the highest entry-level service wages in the country. This represents a 50 percent bump in pay bringing starting wages to $15 an hour by 2021.”

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