Workers allege Disney withheld $1,000 bonuses until employees agree to lower wages

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Unions representing tens of thousands of workers at Disney World filed a federal unfair labor complaint against the company Monday, alleging that it withheld $1,000 bonuses from unionized workers during contract negotiations to convince employees to take lower wages.

In January, the Walt Disney Company announced it would provide 125,000 employees with a cash bonus of $1,000 for all full-time staff and part-time non-executive domestic employees, the International Business Times reported. Disney was one of a few corporations to hand out $1,000 bonuses after the passage of GOP tax legislation, which lowered the corporate interest rate. American Airlines, Comcast, Walmart, and Travelers were a few of the other companies that did so.

But it’s unlikely that the money corporations received from the tax cut will trickle down any time soon — if ever — and economists say that wage growth has been stagnant in what would appear to be strong economy.

Eric Clinton, president of the local UNITE HERE, said in a Facebook video statement that the company is saying employees can have the bonus “if you agree to stay poor.”

Angie McKinnon, financial secretary treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 737, said, in a statement posted on the union’s Facebook page, “Using the $1,000 bonus to force cast members to accept low wages amounts to extortion.”

Union workers rejected a contract offer in December in which cast members who made $10 an hour would get a raise of 50 cents in hourly wages. When negotiations began last year, union leaders asked for $15 per hour for workers, since the majority of the workers represented by the union make less than $12 per hour. The average hourly wage is about $13.34 including overtime and premium pay, according to Disney’s estimates.

Madeline Johnson, an attractions Cast Member at Disney’s Animal Kingdom stated, “We’re not going to be tricked by a $1,000 bribe, especially when other Disney Cast Members are getting the $1,000 with no strings attached.”

The Service Trades Council said Disney is refusing to deliver the employee bonuses until the union approves a new contract, and that, if the workers do not agree to the offer, the bonuses will expires on August 31, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The union members met with Disney management on Monday and management made the same offer they made in December.

Disney spokesperson Andrea Finger released a statement to media about Disney’s “ongoing commitment” to cast members. “Wages and bonuses are part of our negotiation process. We will continue to meet with the union to move toward a ratified agreement,” Finger stated.

Section 8 of the National Labor Relations Act requires parties to “confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and condition of employment.” When employers take unilateral actions that change conditions of employment, it can infer bad faith. Employers are supposed to bargain in good faith until an impasse is reached. Theoretically, Disney may have violated this section by unilaterally deciding to withhold $1,000 bonuses from unionized workers. But if the two sides reached an impasse after both sides participated in good faith bargaining, it is possible that there is an exception and the employer is able to withhold bonuses.

The current fight over bonuses isn’t the first time workers questioned whether Disney’s actions violated labor laws. In March of last year, the U.S. Department of Labor and two subsidiaries of The Walt Disney Co. reached an agreement after the department found violations of minimum wage, overtime, and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Disney was forced to pay back wages to more than 16,000 employees in Florida after it deducted a uniform expense that caused workers’ wages to fall below the minimum wage, among other issues. 

According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis, 13 percent of families with a worker earning above the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour, and 5 percent of families with a worker earning $12.06 to $16 per hour were in poverty in 2016, 2015, 2010, 2005, 2000, and 1995. The analysis found that, on average, low-wage workers worked fewer hours each week than workers earning hourly wages above $16 in each year the GAO analyzed.

Author: Casey Quinlan

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