When Henry started working as an attraction host at Fantasmic! show at Hollywood studios in December 2013, he was making $ 8.35 an hour, he said. Shortly after starting, he and his daughter Zoe were living “paycheck to paycheck, cash advance to cash advance,” even though he was working full time, he said. declared.
His credit was “awful” and there were weeks he and Zoe had to eat instant ramen until the next payday, he said.
Henry was making around $ 10 an hour in August 2018 when the Service Trades Council Union, a coalition of local unions representing Disney workers, struck a deal with the company to gradually increase wages to $ 15 an hour by October 2021.
Disney workers hit the minimum wage of $ 15 on Sunday, over the same weekend the resort began celebrating its 50th anniversary. For many employees, the increase in income over the past three years has been life changing: they have been able to pay off debts, buy homes and start planning for the future.
âI feel more like myself or a human being, if you will, because I can do the things that I always wanted to do,â Henry said.
With Disney and Universal now paying employees $ 15 an hour – and the state’s minimum wage reaching the same level by 2026 – many workers are experiencing new economic mobility, potentially signaling a positive change in the economy. low-wage and tourism-dependent Central Florida.
The fight for $ 15 an hour
Disney and its unions agreed in 2014 to increase the minimum wage from $ 8.03 to $ 10 an hour by 2016. In 2017, the Service Trades Council Union – Disney’s largest – began negotiations for another increase, and in September 2018, union workers approved the most recent contract that raised the minimum to $ 11 in December and paved the way for $ 15.
The Service Trades Council Union represented more than 38,000 workers, more than half of the station’s workforce, which then numbered nearly 70,000. Union membership remains the same today, but the station’s membership has fallen to around 65,000 during the pandemic.
Union members include frontline workers who are lowest paid, including amusement ride operators, guards and freight workers, said Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here Local 362.
Disney and its other unions have made similar deals for a ripple effect, Clinton said. Today, Disney non-intern workers earn at least $ 15 across the resort, according to the company.
âWe like to say – not with arrogance, but with pride – that we won for everyone,â Clinton said.
When Clinton started working as a ride operator at Hollywood Studios in 1998, he was making $ 5.95 an hour, which is the equivalent of about $ 10 today. He has said that fair wages have been his “mission” since he was hired by the union in November 2001.
âGoing from $ 10 an hour to $ 15 an hour, you’re not rich, but you’re not drowning anymore,â he said.
Clinton thanks Disney for paving the way for fair wages in Central Florida. Disney has influenced Universal and other hospitality employers to increase their wages, he said. Universal’s starting salary of $ 15 an hour went into effect in June.
Although this figure is often cited as a living wage, this classification only applies to a single adult without children living in certain areas of the United States.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator estimates that rate in Orlando at $ 15.44 for a working adult, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition recently determined that a full-time worker should earn $ 24.90. the hour to pay an average rent in the United States.
Under Florida Amendment 2, passed in November, Florida’s minimum wage was increased to $ 10 on September 30 and will reach $ 15 in 2026.
Orlando attorney John Morgan, who campaigned for the amendment to pass, said Disney’s wage increase was “of great importance” to the company.
Although Disney increased their pay before the amendment was passed, Morgan said the amendment encouraged Florida’s largest companies to pay workers more fairly. Morgan wants workers to earn even more.
“The truth is, 15 is not enough,” he said.
Sean Snaith, an economist and professor at the University of Central Florida, said Disney’s higher salary is good for the local economy because it gives employees more disposable income. The cost of paying those higher salaries can be passed on to Disney customers, he said.
Before the pandemic, wages were starting to rise for workers in lower-skilled positions at a faster rate than for other types of workers, Snaith said, and Disney was ahead of that trend.
âIt was a strategic decision to make sure they had the quantity and quality of the workforce they needed to deliver their products and services to customers,â he said. he declares.
Snaith said Disney will prioritize low when deciding to increase his salary in the future as the cost of living increases. To maximize profits, executives might decide to modify employee benefits or ânon-salaryâ forms of compensation to offset future increases, he said.
The Service Trades Council Union will renegotiate with Disney when its contract expires next October. Every union contract includes a raise for workers, Clinton said, but he has not speculated on what the increase might be next year.
Meanwhile, Disney is still hiring at the rate of hundreds of new employees every week until the end of the year, a company spokesperson said.
Stress less, offer more
Disney workers have already seen that a better pay leads to a better quality of life.
Henry, featured on Orlando Sentinel’s 2019 âLaborlandâ series on low wages in central Florida, said he was no longer worried about receiving his next bill.
Now working at DinoLand USA at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, he has money in savings for the first time he can remember, and he’s looking to buy a house to move himself and Zoe, 17, from the apartment to ‘a cramped room they share. in Pine Hills.
âIt’s a big weight on my shoulders because I don’t feel like I have to overwork myself,â he said.
Amber Smith, 31, works as the Main Street Operations Coordinator at the Magic Kingdom. She was recently able to achieve her lifelong goal of buying a house in Haines City with her fiancÃ©, who works at Epcot attractions.
Smith, who has worked at Disney for seven years, said she used to see coworkers “working till they drop” overtime to make ends meet. Now everyone is happier and more energetic, she said.
âIt’s nice to see them being able to interact with the guests, and not just wanting to go home or drink a Monster (energy drink) so they can stay awake,â Smith said.
But $ 15 is just the start, she said, and she’s hoping next year’s contract will include further increases.
âI don’t think we should ever stop fighting. We shouldn’t settle for $ 15, âshe said.
Cree Jenkins, 21, worked for almost three years at Disney, first in housekeeping and now cleaning up the Magic Kingdom’s third shift overnight.
Disney’s Aspire program helps her earn a degree in political science and communication at Valencia College. The better pay has saved her more money as she seeks transfer to the University of Central Florida, she said.
She was also able to make a down payment on a new car after her last broke down during the pandemic.
The salary increase has changed the lives of her colleagues, many of whom are now able to send more financial support to families in places like Haiti, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, she said.
But, like Smith, Jenkins looks to a future where Disney workers are paid even better.
âIt’s hard work, and we’re supposed to do it with a smile on our face to preserve that magic,â she said. “So I hope that one day we get to a point where all of our cast members can live on their own (and) they don’t have to worry about money.”
Â© 2021 Orlando Sentinel. Go to orlandosentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.