Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mob Rules

Disney hotel workers represented by Unite Here 11 are staging a hunger strike to bring attention to their cause, in the fight against the evil empire of Disney. let's look at both sides of the issue.

A Facebook page for "Disney is Unfaithful" has posted the following statement.

"Approximately 2,100 employees of the Disneyland Hotels, including bellmen, dishwashers, room attendants, and cooks, have been working without a contract since February 2008. Disney is unfaithful to the community and the workers because they do not uphold their espoused family values. Many hotel workers who have given years to the company will be faced with increased difficulty in obtaining healthcare for their families due to the proposals of Disney. The company is proposing to increase both cost and eligibility requirements to these low wage workers for benefits like health-care, vacation and seniority. This will cause suffering to many workers and their children."

What Unite Here is not telling you is that in 2008, Disney offered to extend the current contract to cover cast members during negotiations, and Unite Here refused the offer. Those cast members are working without a contract because their own leadership dismissed the offer. Working without a contract and working without benefits is NOT the same thing! While the Union refuses to negotiate with Disney, Disney has continued to deposit over $14 million dollars into the Union Trust to cover employee health care benefits. Disney is still acting in good faith.

Health care costs are rising, but Unite Here refuses to pass any of those increases on to their members, like the rest of us have to pay. Instead, they are demanding that Disney increase their payments by over 30% to cover the increased cost! My own family pays more every year for our employer sponsored benefits, and we have been notified that next year the plan we have been in will be eliminated entirely. This is life, and no single segment of the population should carry increased burden, nor should they be exempt from the burdens that others shoulder.

With costs skyrocketing, and Disney trying to avoid layoffs,  it is no longer viable for Disney to pay into the Union plan. Because Disney is such a big company, they are able to "buy in bulk" and get great coverage for their cast members, at a better cost than the Union deal. 30 other Unions working for Disney have enrolled in the benefits plan, and none of the others are protesting. Unite Here is the ONLY Union of 31 in total that has refused to see reason and accept the changing times we all live with. For those Union members who are enrolled in the Disney plan, Disney pays 75% of their plan! That is an incedibly generous benefit, but Unite Here insists that Disney cover 100% of their benefits! I am sorry, but where else on the planet does this happen?

The Disney plan actually offers better variety in choice of doctors and access to services, as well as sick pay, which is unavailable through the Union plan. The Union has also hiked co-pays with little or no warning, and took away cast members' sick pay with no warning! Disney's plan is stable.

The Union has tried to scare their members into believing it would cost $500 a month to enroll in the Disney plan, and I can understand the panic of hearing that number when making minimum wage. I did not have that kind of money as a resort drone, waiting tables, and IF THE NUMBERS WERE REAL, it would be a problem! According to Disney, "For a single Cast Member in 2010, the seven health plans in Disney Signature Benefits begin at $6.50 per week, with five health plans that are less than $20 per week. For a family of four, we offer four health plans at $68 or less per week, with the lowest starting at $29/week."

In addition to comprehensive health care coverage, the Mouse offered annual wage increases of 2.7% to 3.9% per year for five years for non-tipped Cast Members, the continuation of current eligibility requirements for all current Cast Members (ie, Cast Members can work as little as 70 hours per month and still be entitled to full health care benefits) and seven paid sick days per year -- a benefit the Union recently suspended. In an age when people are losing their jobs, this is jawdropping generous in my book!

In the 2 years the Union and Disney have been battling, Disney has asked for a Federal mediator to help them resolve the issue on at least FOUR occasions! In every case, Unite Here has refused. On January 29, Disney asked again for mediation, to try and get their cast members covered, and the Union responded, not by agreeing to mediation, but with a hunger strike! The Union tells the news media that they will agree to mediation, and they did send Disney a formal letter agreeing to mediation, but as of this date (February 16, 2010) when I checked with Disney, they do not have a response from the Union agreeing to details. If the Union is so concerned, why are they not at the negotiation tables?

Talking to Disney does not seem difficult, in the 2 years the Unite Here people have spent getting dressed up like characters for the benefit of being arrested in front of the media, SEVEN other Union contracts representing 7,100 cast members were renegotiated, with none of the other Unions protesting in the street!

In the place of Disney, I honestly do not know that I would have been as gracious. When Unite Here went on a hunger strike in the rain, Disney offered them the use of a ballroom to keep them out of the weather. Frankly, I would have told them to find better benefits with their next employer. So when i see reports of Disney being depicted as the evil empire, I have to respond. Every city is a company town to some extent, and while I do not always agree with Disney, I am proud of the way the biggest employer in the region conducts themselves, even in the face of angry and unreasonable mobs.

A quick note to Unite Here: I know a lot of college students in my neighborhood who would LOVE to have your jobs, with or without benefits.

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