TCU/IAM Workers Win at Walt Disney World

Winter 2023-2024 IAM Journal

This spring, the Transportation Communications Union (TCU/IAM) won a historic labor victory at the largest theme park in the nation, Walt Disney World in Florida. The victory boosted pay and quality of life for thousands of union families there, many of whom are members of TCU/IAM Local 1908 in Orlando.

“I am extremely proud for our members. They deserved a good contract, and they got it,” said TCU/IAM National President Artie Maratea. “Our work is never done though. There are always new challenges and changing times. So, we must continue the hard work every day to improve our members’ lives in any way possible. That’s what our members expect and that’s what they deserve.”

Walt Disney World, home to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Cinderella, is the largest single-site employer in Florida, with an estimated 75,000 workers. The massive family-friendly theme park sits 15 miles south-west of Orlando and engulfs 43 square miles. It draws 58 million tourists annually and adds an estimated $18.2 billion a year to
the economy. TCU/IAM represents approximately 5,000 workers, generically referred to as cast members, who are employed in various positions at Walt Disney World. Union-represented jobs there include transporting tourists around the resort by rail and water, providing technical support and working in the food service industry.

“The major economic engine in central Florida is the huge tourism industry. Walt Disney World is the center of that entire industry,” said Maratea. “The direct impact that Disney has on the region reaches well beyond the Disney Parks themselves. Every other theme park and attraction exist because of Disney.”

When Walt Disney World’s contract with TCU/IAM expired in the fall of 2022, union members there faced uncertainty. Like many businesses, the theme park industry struggled with a recent downturn in tourism due to COVID-19. In addition, the region’s rising inflation and increase in cost-of-living highlighted the need for a new union agreement that provided strong economic gains.

TCU/IAM Local 1908 is part of a joint council with other unions at Walt Disney World, known as the Service Trades Council Union (STCU). The STCU includes locals from Unite Here, United Food and Commercial Workers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. TCU/IAM National Vice President Matt Hollis is the President of the STCU. Hollis knew that solidarity would be the key to winning a good contract in this round of bargaining. He quickly met with STCU affiliates and began working to develop a plan that would deliver a strong contract for our members.

“We knew the company’s chief strategy was to divide and conquer,” said Hollis. “Our group of leaders stood together, and we committed to each other to do everything we could to keep from being divided.”

Under Hollis’ leadership, the STCU negotiated with Walt Disney World for six intense months. During that time, the group engaged in consistent community outreach, garnering political support from U.S. representative Maxwell Frost of Florida. Hollis also updated membership by hosting routine union meetings, organizing energetic labor rallies, holding media briefings with news networks like CNN and setting-up press conferences with local television stations.

In early 2023 the bargaining unit overwhelmingly rejected a low-ball offer from the company. But in March of this year the STCU was successful in reaching a substantial multi-year deal. The agreement raises wages in increments over several years. Pay in the first year of the new contract is $18 an hour, up from $15. Pay in the final year of the contract jumps to $20.50 per hour. The agreement also protects employee pensions and provides paid child bonding for full-time employees, a process that gives parents appropriate time to bond with their newborns.

“I am proud for our members and proud for unions in the STCU to be able to deliver such a great agreement,” said Hollis. “Walt Disney World workers do it best and they lead the way for the entire tourism industry in the region.”

The win was applauded by Josh Hartford, who is the Special Assistant to the IAM International President. Hartford, who has extensive experience at bargaining tables across the country, was impressed by TCU/IAM’s negotiating team. “They had a great mix of seasoned union leaders and young, enthusiastic members, all focused on obtaining a good contract,” said Hartford. “It’s clear, Local 1908 will be in good hands for a long time. The group’s teamwork, drive and dedication will serve central Florida’s working families well for years to come.”

Ben Kocsis is the Vice President of TCU/IAM Local 1908 and works at Walt Disney World as a gondola host on an aerial transportation system called the Skyliner. The system moves tourists around the area in small cabins, dozens of feet above land and water, suspended by wire. Kocsis says the new contract, which runs through 2026, gives him and his wife peace of mind.

“It got harder and harder to live off what I was bringing home. Even between both my wife’s and my income, we were still struggling to make ends meet,” said Kocsis, an avid bowler and dog lover. “That’s the most important issue to me, making enough not only to survive, but to live comfortably. This doesn’t mean live exorbitantly, but enough to cover the bills and still have fun as well.”

The new contract will impact a diverse range of TCU/IAM union members, including U.S. military veterans who have a strong residential presence in the region.

Local 1908 Shop Steward Paul Dublino, a U.S. Navy veteran of 20 years, works as a transportation coordinator at Walt Disney World. Daily, he ensures safe operation of boats on the property that transport tourists. Dublino, who’s been married 37 years to wife Gloria, is a father of three and grandfather of four. He helped negotiate the contract and says fairness fueled his fight for a good agreement.

“Without a contract, corporations can look past safe working conditions, fair living wages and health insurance,” said Dublino. “As an active member and officer of TCU, I was able to share my knowledge and experience with others on how important the fight is for a fair contract and contribute to the efforts to reach an agreement. I am grateful for the support of the union.”

The new contract gives longtime Local 1908 member Ramon Diaz a good, working-class way of life. He has a 30-minute work commute from nearby Kissimmee, FL and enjoys serving tourists who visit the theme park from around the world.

“I fought for a better contract because I have a lot personally invested in this company,” said Diaz, who plans to retire in 13 years. “Having stable and sufficient income in a safe and supportive environment is important to everybody.”

Diaz, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, has worked at Walt Disney World off and on for 34 years, including 16 years as a union-represented boat pilot. He says the new contract’s pay increase will ease the burden of rising gas prices, a problem that frustrates many Walt Disney World employees who commute to, and from work.

“The public transit in this area is not very good or efficient, and therefore incompatible with our job,” said Diaz. “Most of us cast members are car dependent.”

For six years, Craig Heaney, a proud TCU/IAM Local 1908 member and Shop Steward at Walt Disney World, has worked as a watercraft host on site. He’s relieved labor negotiations are over and says strong contract language, bargained by the union, will give him work-life balance and a more lucrative salary doing what he loves.

“I’m passionate about this job because I get to share my love for boating and train the next generation of deckhands and pilots,” said Heaney, who enjoys cooking, fishing and playing video games. “On any given day I could be driving vessels of various size and tonnage, training new cast mates on how to deckhand or drive boats, or managing labor and work assignments. I am very often the go-to person when coworkers have union and work-related questions.”

This contract win caught the attention of the U.S. labor movement because it’s one of the larger labor victories in TCU/IAM’s recent history. The agreement preserves a good quality of life for thousands in central Florida, including hardworking members of Local 1908. It also helps maintain Florida’s most lucrative tourist attraction, Walt Disney World, a popular destination that has been entertaining millions of families from around the globe since 1971.

“I’m proud for our members and I’m proud of our great team of representatives that worked so hard trying to bring this agreement together: National Vice President Matt Hollis, National Representative Staci Bowermeister-Shkoler, National Field Representative Will “Elvis” White, Division Chairman TJ Norwood and our host of great stewards who worked hard at the bargaining table, in committee meetings and on the property,” said Maratea. “I really appreciate their work. They are a top-notch group of professionals who care deeply about working families.”


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