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Disneyland Workers Ratify New Contract, Averting Strike


ANAHEIM — Hundreds of cashiers, cooks and other culinary workers at Disneyland voted overwhelmingly Sunday to ratify a new labor contract, lifting the threat of an impending strike that had loomed over the weekend.

A representative of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Local 681 said that 98% of nearly 500 members voted for a three-year pact that gives them greater job security but smaller wage increases than the union had sought.

The vote capped two months of negotiations between Disneyland and Local 681 that culminated in a last-minute tentative agreement late Saturday, after the two sides had broken off talks at 4 that morning. The new agreement, covering about 1,600 food-service workers at the Anaheim amusement park, will replace a three-year contract that expires today.

"We fought hard for what we got," said Sandi Ecklund, who sells popcorn, ice cream and balloons at Disneyland. Ecklund was one of 18 members on the union's bargaining committee, which ironed out the agreement and unanimously recommended its passage to members.

Disneyland officials were not available for comment Sunday.

The new pact gives workers a 3% wage increase annually--enough to keep pace with current inflation. That compared with a 4% annual raise in the last contract, signed in 1991.

Although union members had hoped to maintain the 4% wage increase, they said they were not overly disappointed with what they got either.

"I think it's probably the best we could have got for the way the economy is today," said Gerald Lueders, who works in the kitchen at Disneyland's New Orleans restaurant. "It's enough that we could live on it," he said after casting his ballot Sunday at the Grand Hotel, across the street from Disneyland.

Lueders and other union workers said they voted for the contract largely because of the outcome on two issues that they considered as important as wages: a proposal by the company to set up a two-tier wage structure and a push by the union to prohibit management from subcontracting jobs to non-union workers.

Differences on those two issues emerged from the start of the talks and threatened to result in the first strike at Disneyland in 10 years. Those issues were unresolved at 4 a.m. Saturday when the two sides, weary from meeting throughout the night, called off talks.

Working under a Sunday morning deadline, negotiators for the union and the company reconvened Saturday afternoon in an office behind Main Street in Disneyland, and the two sides reached a compromise at 10:30 that night.

Disneyland originally had sought to cap wages for most employees hired after Nov. 1 at $7.50 an hour, versus a top rate of $8.95 for most current workers. In the end, negotiators agreed that new hires would have the same top scale but that it would take them four years--twice as long as former employees--to reach $8.95 an hour, which will go up 27 cents on Tuesday under the new agreement.

The second issue involved Local 681's effort to obtain language that would prevent Disneyland from subcontracting out any union jobs. The two sides agreed that Disneyland would limit subcontracting to no more than 10% of the jobs held by Local 681 members.

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