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Sat, Nov 06, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Disney World, unions agree after months of haggling

AP , ORLANDO, FLORIDA

After months of negotiations, Walt Disney World and leaders of its largest union group agreed on Thursday to a tentative contract that will likely avert a strike at the theme park resort.

Most leaders of the Service Trades Council, a six-union coalition that represents 40 percent of the company's 53,000-person work force, will recommend that its members approve the three-year contract on Thursday.

Earlier this week, union leaders advised members to reject the latest proposal and authorize union leaders to call a strike if further negotiations and mediation failed. But both sides found common ground during talks that lasted into Thursday evening.

"Neither side was totally pleased with the package," said Ed Chambers, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 1625. "In my experience, when neither side is really happy, you got the best deal for everybody."

The contract covers hotel workers, costumed characters, bus drivers, ticket takers, ride operators and concession workers. Union members have rejected two previous proposals.

Disney backed down from what union leaders considered a deal-breaker: raising the number of hours that part-timers can work. Union leaders said the company was trying to reduce its need for full-time workers to save money on benefits.

Earlier in the day, Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Polak called the contract proposal "fair and competitive."

Chambers said under the latest proposal, top-scale workers who currently earn US$11.12 an hour will get a US$0.20-an-hour increase and a lump sum bonus of between US$1,500 and US$1,700 during the contract's first year. In the second year, they will get another lump sum, and in the third year they will get a US$0.25-an-hour increase.

The starting minimum wage, currently US$6.70 an hour, will increase US$0.10 an hour for each year of the contract.

Walt Disney World is part of The Walt Disney Co, the theme park and media conglomerate that also owns the ABC and ESPN cable television networks. The theme park's last strike was by some musicians in the early 1980s.

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