8 Disneyland employees break hunger strike in labor negotiations

Neverland Pool at Disneyland Hotel (License: Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic)
Neverland Pool at Disneyland Hotel (License: Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic) Loren Javier/Flickr

Eight Disneyland employees who have been on a weeklong hunger strike to protest stalled negotiations on a new labor contract will break their fast today as they end their demonstrations in Anaheim and move to Disney's headquarters in Burbank.

Ten hotel workers represented by Unite Here Local 11 began their fast Feb. 9, but two dropped out for medical reasons, Leigh Shelton of Unite Here said. They are trying to draw attention to negotiations that have stalled since 2008 over Disney's proposal to have union members begin paying for their health care plan.

The activists have been camping out in front of the Disneyland Grand Californian Hotel and Spa and picketing. On Saturday, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello put on a show.

"Throughout all this the workers have refused any food," Shelton said. "The situation has gotten so bad the workers have nothing else they can do but put their own health in jeopardy to make the company pay attention to them."

Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown said the company has offered to meet with union leaders before an independent federal mediator.

"We were ready to meet and instead they held a hunger strike," Brown said. "We continue to be ready to meet. We think that's a much more productive path to take."

Union leaders are happy to meet with the mediator, but it will be difficult to strike a deal when both sides are so far apart on fundamental issues, Shelton said.

Disney wants the about 2,150 Unite Here workers to enroll in the health care plan the company's 30 other unions have. But that plan includes monthly premiums, and Local 11 workers don't pay them – only co-pays for visits to doctors and prescriptions, Shelton said.

One of the hunger-strikers would have to pay up to $500 a month to cover himself and his family, and he only makes $11.11 an hour, Shelton said.

"We're not sure where they get that $500-a-month figure," Brown said. "The contract we've offered would ease a local member into that plan, so they would continue to pay nothing in 2010."

Next year the union would pay 25 percent of what other union members pay, Brown said. Then the premium would increase to half of what other union members pay in 2012 and 75 percent in 2013 until all of the unions would be paying the same amount in 2014, Brown said.

The health plan most similar to the one Local 11 has now would cost $68 a week for a family, Brown said. Disney has some plans that are less expensive, she added.

Unite Here workers have given up pay raises over the years so they could keep their health care plan free of monthly premiums, Shelton said.

"The vast majority of workers we represent make less than $13 an hour," Shelton said. "We've given up wage raises and we've negotiated big compromises to maintain this health care."

Unite Here workers will hold a mass demonstration at 5:15 p.m. today to cap off their Anaheim protests. They will move their protests to Burbank Wednesday.

"Maybe they'll listen to us up there," Shelton said.

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