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Disneyland Resort will raise the hourly pay of more than 8,600 workers to $15 in January as part of a new contract with unions representing ride operators, ticket takers, retail sales clerks, janitors and parking attendants among others.

The three-year agreement, approved by members of four resort unions late Thursday, follows months of protests over low pay, the filing of an Anaheim living wage ballot initiative, and widespread publicity in the U.S. and overseas depicting workers at the “Happiest Place on Earth” as mired in poverty.

The contract immediately boosts those workers minimum pay to $13.25 an hour from $11, followed by the jump to $15 next year. Californias legal wage floor for large companies is set to rise to $15 an hour in 2022.

“The cost of living in Orange County is incredibly high,” Josh DAmaro, president of the Disneyland Resort, wrote in an email. “There are broad societal issues that communities are grappling with and no one company or entity alone can solve them.

“But we want to do our part. The resort is taking a leadership position on wages in O.C., and we are committed to providing not just an exceptional employment experience, but real, meaningful increases in pay as well.”

  • Gabriel Ramos, an attractions operator at Disney California Adventure Park, left, chats with fellow ride operator and Teamster shop steward, Brian Freeman, before he votes on a new union contract at the Main Street Opera House in Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Disneyland Resort employees cast their ballots during voting on a new union contract at the Main Street Opera House in Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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  • Disneyland Resort employees cast their ballots during voting on a new union contract at the Main Street Opera House in Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Disney California Adventure Park ride operators Anthony Alvarez, left, Louie Gonzales, center, and Bridget Bennett, look over information about a new union contract before voting at the Main Street Opera House in Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Union leaders assessment was more muted. “We are pleased this is a step in the right direction,” said Andrea Zinder, secretary-treasurer of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324 and a leader of the negotiations.

“Disney is a very wealthy company that had not been paying a fair wage for a long time. And Disneys profits come from the image that these hard-working employees portray day in and day out. You still cant live comfortably in Los Angeles or Orange County on $15 an hour.

Disneys final offer, after months of stalled bargaining, came on the eve of a four-day hunger strike and a mock homeless shantytown that unions had planned to erect across from the theme park, highlighting allegations of worker poverty.

The protest, called off after Disneylands offer, would have overlapped with The Walt Disney Companys shareholder vote Friday on its $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox Entertainment. According to Bloomberg, Disney CEO Robert Iger stands to earn $162.5 million in stock and cash bonuses in 2018 thanks to the deal.

Besides the UFCW, employees covered by the contract belong to the Teamsters, the Service Workers International Union-United Service Workers West and the Bakery, Confectioners, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers. They account for less than half of the resorts 23,000 organized workers.

The contract does not affect minimum pay at Disneylands other unions where thousands still make less than $15 an hour. Nor does it boost the hourly wages of non-union members among the resorts 30,000 employees.

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After reaching $15 an hour next year, workers covered by Thursdays contract would get a 3 percent hike in 2020, raising their final pay to $15.45. More experienced employees currently making above $15 would be limited to a 3 percent annual hike — a level which caused many of them to vote against the contract for shortchanging them in comparison to newer employees.

Denise Anderson, 56, joined Disney 31 years ago and earns $19.90 an hour purchasing supplies for the costume department. She will get an annual raise of 60 cents an hour.

“Long-term cast members are disappointed,” she said. “Those whove been loyal workers for 20, 30 and even 40 years dont seem to count. When I started at Disney, you could work there and buy a home and put your kids through school on what you earned. Now the management is all about making money.”

But the new $15 floor does not just benefit new workers. Artemis Bell, a 32-year-old night custodian who was a member of the bargaining committee, has worked eight years at Disney. She earns $11.86 an hour.

“In January, Ill make an extra $150 a week,” she said. “This will take some of the stress off in paying my bills. In the past, Ive had to take out payday loans in an emergency, like when a roommate moves out without paying their part of the rent.”

Union leaders plan to push ahead with an initiative set for Anaheims November ballot to raise minimum wages to $18 an hour by 2022 at companies that have received multi-million dollar tax breaks from the city.

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The two targeted companies, Disney and hotel developer Wincome Group, are fighting back under the aegis of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. They are already running social media ads calling the initiative a “job-killer” and can be expected to invest considerable sums between now and November.

Dan Flaming, president of the Economic Roundtable, a Los Angeles nonprofit that co-authored a February report on Disney wages for a coalition of the resort unions, called the contract “a big step forward for workers that have been banging their heads against a brick wall for years.”

But he added, “It doesnt take workers to where they need to be. Our data shows an average of $23 an hour is needed for Disney workers to afford the basic necessities of life. And that includes many households where both adults are working.”

Twelve of Disneys unions commissioned the report, co-authored by researchers at Occidental College. Some 17,000 workers responded to the reports survey, documenting for the first time wage levels and demographic data that the resort had previously refused to disclose.

In the survey, 74 percent of workers said they could not afford basic necessities and 11 percent said they had been homeless or living in their cars over the previous two years.

Disney called the report unscientific and biased. But the hashtag #StopDisneyPoverty took off across social media where Disney workers took to telling hardship stories. News of the death of a long-time Disneyland custodial worker who was living in her car, and whose body was not discovered for 20 days, did not help the resorts reputation.

In recent months, Sen. Bernie Sanders seized on the issue to mount a campaign against Disney for low wages, hosting a rally in Anaheim and flailing the company in press releases and social media.

But DAmaro, the resort president, contended, “Weve had a long and positive relationship with our unions. While there can be natural tension, whats important is that weve come together to deliver a great contract for our cast that will get more money in their pockets immediately.”

Anaheim Chamber President Todd Ament said the new contract “shows what happens when business and labor sit down constructively…This shows that the destructive living wage initiative on the ballot in Anaheim, which benefits very few workers but causes great harm across all of Anaheim, is not needed.”

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