Disney World Workers March for Fair Wages: 'Magic Doesn't Pay the Bills'

Walt Disney World employees banded together for march for fair wages on Wednesday. The large group, many of whom were still dressed in their work clothes, began marching in Kissimmee, by Walt Disney World Property with the mountain for Animal Kingdom roller coaster Expedition Everest visible in the distance, to a stretch of U.S. 192, chanting "Disney workers need a raise" and holding signs reading, "Magic doesn't pay the bills."

The rally came amid ongoing negotiations between the company and the Services Trades Council Union (STCU), which is a coalition of six unions representing close to 42,000 WDW cast members. On Oct. 1, the old agreement, which raised the minimum wage from $10 to $15, expired. In their negotiations, according to the Orlando Sentinel, Disney has proposed a gradual increase to its starting wages that would raise the minimum wage $1 a year until it reaches $20 over the course of five years. Spokesperson Andrea Finger dubbed the offer "strong and meaningful," noting that it "far outpaces Florida minimum wage by at least $5 an hour and immediately takes starting wages for certain roles including bus drivers, housekeepers and culinary up to a minimum of $20 an hour while providing a path to $20 for all other full-time, non-tipped STCU roles during the contract term." Disney said 25% of non-tipped employees would earn $20 an hour within the contract's first year under the offer.

However, Disney employees are seeking a fast path to higher wages, pushing for Disney to immediately increase the minimum wage to $18 per hour while also boosting the pay of workers who already make close to that amount by $3 an hour. Employees who participated in the rally said they are currently unable to pay rent and bills, with Disney World worker Amethyst Bennett sharing that she and her husband, a Universal employee, would be unable to afford formula and diapers for their 9-month-old daughter. Bennett, who has worked at her "dream job" as a recreation employee with Disney since 2018 and makes $16.50 an hour, said, "being able to make magic and also provide for her would mean my entire life.."

Earlier this month, Unite Here Local 737, one of the unions whose members marched, released a report that found 69% of its members at some point in the past year did not have money to pay their rent or their mortgage, with 62% saying they had less than $100 in the bank. Of respondents, just under 50% said they had skipped meals because they couldn't afford the price of food, and nearly 40% said they worried about becoming homeless.

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Disney has not publicly commented on the Wednesday rally. The status of negotiations remains unclear at this time.