ANAHEIM — Amid a swirl of confusion, frustration and embarrassment, Disneyland and union officials are expected to return to the table later this week after workers voted down the same contract proposal they rejected last month.
On Monday, workers at the Anaheim park voted 742 to 729 against an offer that included a 3% wage increase in each of the next three years.
The second repudiation surprised Disneyland and was a setback to union negotiators, who had unanimously endorsed the proposal and tried to get it ratified by changing the voting procedure from mail ballots to casting votes in person.
Disneyland spokesman Tom Brocato said Tuesday that park officials planned to meet with union representatives and a federal mediator Thursday or Friday. But union officials said they were unaware of any scheduled meeting between the two sides.
Brocato declined to comment on what Disneyland would propose at the meeting later this week, if anything. However, he suggested that Disneyland may ask the unions to take yet another vote on the same contract.
In the first round of voting--which was done by mail last month--the proposal was defeated by a bigger ratio, 848 to 805. Union officials had blamed that defeat on misinformation, so they called for a second round of ballots, to be cast in person at the union hall and at the park.
About 3,000 ride operators, ticket takers, janitors, gift-shop clerks and others are covered by the contract--a so-called master agreement that involves five unions. The contract expired Sept. 15, but employees continue to work under the terms of the old contract.
The second rejection not only embarrassed union leaders but put them in a bind because they had endorsed the offer, saying it was the best proposal they could get.
Moreover, because of an uncommon bylaw of one of the five unions, the unions at Disneyland cannot call a strike unless at least two-thirds of those voting reject an offer--which did not happen in this case.
As a result, union officials faced the unpleasant reality of dealing with workers who were clearly unhappy with the contract proposal but would not give union leaders the weapon of a strike in negotiating.
Ben Monterroso, deputy trustee of Service Employees Union Local 399, said Tuesday that the five unions would meet later this week to plan their next move. He said his union requires only a majority rejection before members could strike, as do three others at the park. But one union, which he declined to identify, is bound by the two-thirds rule.
"On the one hand, we have to operate as a group," he said. "On the other, workers rejected it again."
Another informed union source, who requested anonymity, said the double rejections left the unions red-faced. Asked about the prospect of taking another vote, the source chuckled and said, "If that's what Disney proposes, we'll listen to it."
At Disneyland on Tuesday, workers expressed frustration and anger. There was also a great deal of confusion because of a published report that suggested union leaders would accept the contract offer, overriding the workers' vote because fewer than two-thirds rejected it.
Under some union bylaws, a union's executive board can force its members to accept a contract, even though they may have voted against it. But it was unclear whether any of the five Disneyland unions had the right to do so in this case.
Both Disneyland and union spokesmen said Tuesday that they were unaware of any specific plans by the unions to take such a step.
Under federal labor laws, Disneyland is required to meet with the union and negotiate in good faith until either an agreement or impasse is reached, in which case the company could unilaterally implement the contract.
Sue Kemp, a 24-year veteran merchandise hostess at the park, said the unions should go back to the table and negotiate for a better wage increase. Kemp, who earns $10.99 an hour, said that if the unions forced employees to accept the latest offer, she might give up her union card.
Mike Wright, a custodian with Hotel and Restaurant Workers Local 681, said: "I have faith that the union negotiated for the best possible deal. I don't think we will get a better deal."
Besides the Service Employees and Hotel and Restaurant Workers, the unions involved in the Disneyland contract are the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Bakery and Confection Workers. The other unions either declined to comment on the record or did not return calls.