LOS ANGELES (CN) – Disneyland Resort employees voted Thursday to ratify a new labor agreement that will raise wages to $15 an hour by January 2019 and end a prolonged showdown between the Burbank-based entertainment giant and its workers.
The ratification of the three-year contract ends months of contentious bargaining and covers at least 9,700 employees who operate theme park attractions and maintain Disney hotels and a nearby shopping district.
Included in the contract are three wage increases of 3 percent for workers already making above $15, according to a statement from Service Employees International Union.
The deal also includes “improvements to policies around seniority, premium pay and paid days off,” the statement said.
“It’s important for Disney, as the largest employer in Orange County, to recognize the struggles workers go through as the cost of living continues to rise in the area,” said Artemis Bell, a Disneyland night shift custodian and union bargaining committee member. “With this contract, we are one step closer to a better situation for thousands of employees who put so much energy and heart into their jobs.”
Thousands of costumed Disney employees voted throughout the day at Lincoln Theater, putting secret ballots inside a large white wooden box.
The Master Services Council, a coalition of four unions representing Disneyland employees, announced Monday that it reached a tentative agreement with Disneyland Resort.
Workers had planned to launch a “Shantyland” hunger fast Tuesday outside the gates of Disneyland.
The contract – which covers a portion of the more than 30,000 Disney employees – represents a “shared commitment to cast members,” a joint statement said Monday.
“With this deal we’ve made up some ground that’s been lost in the past, but of course there is still unfinished business,” said Laurinda Fiddler, a 34-year merchandise hostess and union bargaining committee member. “We look forward to coming back in three years and working with Disney to continue the process.”
In a statement, Disneyland president Josh D’Amaro said the wage increase “reflects the valuable roles” park workers play in making guests’ “dreams come true.”
“Disneyland Resort has long taken pride in providing an exceptional employee experience, and this agreement sets a new bar with minimum wages that are among the highest in the country,” D’Amaro said. “Our unprecedented offer shows our commitment and care for our cast members and is the largest increase in our history.”
The deal was also applauded by the California Chamber of Commerce, the Orange County Business Council and other groups.
A union-backed measure could still appear on the Nov. 6 ballot requiring Disneyland Resort – and other hospitality companies that receive public subsidies – to increase wages by $1 an hour each year until 2022.
Within 3 weeks, employee unions were able to get over 20,000 Anaheim residents to sign the petition supporting the measure.
It’s unclear if unions will continue to back the initiative.
Disney has been under fire since a union-commissioned survey released earlier this year found that 85 percent of workers are paid less than $15 an hour while more than half earn less than $12.
In the past ten years, the number of visitors to the Disneyland Resort and theme park has increased from 20.6 million in 2006 to 27.2 million in 2016.
Park revenue also increased from $1.72 billion to $3.03 billion in the same period. Disney recently increased Disneyland tickets by 9 percent with peak-period one-day tickets costing $135.
The company – whose CEO Bob Iger earned $36.3 million in 2017 – also recently acquired 21st Century Fox’s film and TV studios in a $52 billion deal.
The survey by Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research center at Occidental College, found that 74 percent of workers didn’t earn enough to cover basic expenses every month.
Fifty-six percent of employees said they worry about being evicted from their homes or apartments, while 11 percent reported being homeless at some point in the last two years.
A living wage for a single adult is considered $13.54 an hour in Los Angeles County and $15.31 in Orange County.
Disney has called the report inaccurate.
The workers’ plight gripped many across the country and inspired Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to travel to Anaheim in June to meet publicly with Disney workers.