The Disney World puppeteer had to miss his sister’s wedding in West Virginia. He had to skip his family reunion in the Dominican Republic.
But after President Trump signed a tax law last December slashing corporate rates, his employer announced it would offer $1,000 bonuses to 125,000 theme park workers, and he thought: I can finally take a vacation.
“That’s three weeks salary,” said Michael Kirby, 36, who maneuvers Muppets and Little Mermaid characters in Orlando. “That’s a week in the Dominican Republic.”
However, it is now unclear whether Kirby, along with 36,000 other unionized Disney workers, will get the bonus. The extra cash is stuck at the center of a dispute between the a coalition of labor groups and the company responsible for Mickey Mouse.
“I’m counting on it never happening,” Kirby said.
The Service Trades Council Union — a coalition of six locals, including branches of the Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the Transportation Communications International Union — filed a federal unfair-labor-practices complaint to the National Labor Relations Board on Monday accusing Walt Disney World Resorts of refusing to pay the bonuses until unionized employees agree to a new contract.
In December, members voted to reject Disney’s November offer for a 50-cent wage increase, plus another one the following year and a $200 bonus.
Disney responded with a wage proposal earlier this month threatening to withdraw the offer if the two sides don't reach a deal by August. “If the Company's offer is not ratified by August 31, 2018, the bonus offer will expire,” the proposal said.
"Our offer to increase pay by 6-10 percent over the next two years reflects our ongoing commitment to our Cast Members," Disney spokesperson Andrea Finger said in an email to the Post. "Wages and bonuses are part of our negotiation process. We will continue to meet with the Union to move toward a ratified agreement."
The next round of negotiations have yet to be scheduled. For non-STCU employees, the first installment of the bonus ($275) is slated to be paid in March.
The union said Disney’s tactics were illegal.
“We believe an effort by Disney to link cast members' raises with the $1,000 Trump tax cut bonus would constitute an unlawful Unfair Labor Practice for discriminating against Cast Members engaged in Bargaining,” Jeremy Haicken, the STCU's secretary-treasurer, wrote to Disney in a Feb. 16 letter.
Disney has already signed off on bonuses for security guards and painters who don't belong to the STCU, said Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here Local 362, which is part of the coalition.
“You’re holding us hostage,” he said. “You’re saying we have to accept the raise we already said 'no' to. That’s discrimination against people in negotiations.”
Legal analysts say the union could have a case.
“What they’re saying is: You’re treating us differently,” said Michael Leroy, a labor and law professor at the University of Illinois. “That does appear to have merit. Everyone is being offered the $1,000 — except the union folks. They’re being asked to take the $1,000 with some conditions.”
However, it’s hard to say how the National Labor Relations Board will respond to the complaint.
“It really only becomes illegal if the employer has some provable anti-union motivation, and even then, NLRB and court decisions are somewhat inconsistent as to what that entails,” said Joseph Slater, a professor at the University of Toledo College of Law.
Disney reported a 78.4 percent jump in quarterly profits this month, attributing the $1.6 billion gain to the Republican tax law, which shrank the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.
The company was one of several firms, including AT&T and Walmart, to announce employee bonuses after Trump signed the measure in December.
“We are directing approximately $125 million to our cast members and employees across the country and making higher education more accessible with the launch of this new program,” chief executive Bob Iger said in a statement at the time.
Clinton, the local president, said the union was holding out for “living wages” and declined to name a number. Members make $10.71 an hour, above Florida’s minimum wage ($8.25).
But on Unite Here Central Florida’s public Facebook page, some who identified themselves as Disney employees have bashed the union for delaying their extra money.
“You guys just threw me into debt,” one wrote. “I needed that money to pay for my prescriptions.”
“Are you freaking kidding me?” said another, who described herself online as a Disney World pastry chef. “So because I’m in the union I won’t get the bonus? Great. You know I was counting on that money for my unborn child but I guess not.”
Others put the blame on Disney.
“Just want to say bullshot and Corp needs to stop treating us like s---,” someone wrote. “We work hard and keep the Disney magic alive for the guest that comes to our park.”