Disneyland maintenance workers have soundly rejected a contract proposal to establish working conditions at its new California Adventure theme park in Anaheim.
The vote, which was tallied Thursday, is a setback to Disney's efforts to set up some separate work arrangements for the new park and ensure a smooth opening next year without labor strife.
The workers--more than 800 painters, electricians, carpenters, machinists and others who perform routine maintenance and building jobs at the theme park--ignored favorable recommendations from union leaders.
The extended contract would have unionized all maintenance workers hired at California Adventure, provided a 3% pay increase each year of the two-year extension and offered five weeks of vacation to employees with 20 or more years of service.
But Disney also sought a number of concessions, including the authority to hire outside contractors for some services and more flexibility in assigning workers to other tasks. The theme park operator also wanted more discretion in weighing seniority as a factor in laying off and rehiring workers, as well as the option of no longer laundering workers' uniforms.
"It left a bunch of vague spots on seniority," said Doug Williams, business representative for one of the unions, Ironworkers Local No. 432. "And in the new park, there was a chance of [workers] washing their own clothes and not having their own lockers."
The Disney craft maintenance council, which consists of 15 unions representing the workers, would not disclose details of the vote. But a source close to the unions said the rejection apparently was nearly unanimous.
Disneyland spokesman Ray Gomez said officials will continue to negotiate with the council.
"We don't know all the reasons [for the contract rejection] but they did tell us they are willing and eager to get back together with us and start talking very soon," Gomez said.
The current five-year contract, which is scheduled to expire in 2003, would have been extended to February 2005. Business agents for the 15 unions had endorsed the proposal.
"It's a win-win for the company and for us," said Jim Berkey, chief union negotiator. "It's good for us in that it increases work opportunities for people" while ensuring that Disney can have experienced workers at California Adventure.
Indeed, unions representing thousands of other Disney workers, including ride operators, ticket takers, janitors, wardrobe workers, and parking lot attendants, approved a similar contract agreement earlier this year.
But the concessions have drawn criticism.
"It was a very good contract for the company but not for the average worker," said John Lawson, business agent for International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 923, which represents theatrical stage employees. Disney has not yet offered his union a contract extension, he said.
"I think it's disappointing that a company this large and successful would want so much control and concessions from their hourly workers," he said.
Even one of the unions that previously agreed to contract changes--Service Employees International Union Local 1877--objected to the provision permitting Disney to hire outside contractors.
"Custodial jobs would be the most vulnerable to subcontracting," said Mark Langevin, internal organizer for the union, which represents Disneyland janitors, ticket takers and wardrobe workers.
Berkey said he doesn't believe the clause will threaten the jobs of regular employees.
"If the company wanted to do [Disney's California Adventure] with subcontractors, they wouldn't be signing agreements with us," he said.
California Adventure, which will be next to Disneyland, is expected to employ about 5,000 people.