More than 300 Disneyland Resort hotel workers and their supporters marched to the park's main entrance Thursday to protest the company's management practices and to set the stage for a potentially contentious round of labor negotiations scheduled to begin in January.
Members of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 681 said they held the march -- accompanied by a candlelight vigil -- to pray that Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner and other executives might "open their hearts and see our worth as workers," and to support former board member Roy Disney's recent allegations that the company is pinching pennies and undermining worker trust.
"We're here to urge Disney to do the right thing for its workers," union President Ada Torres said. "That is, to give them the dignity and respect which they deserve."
Of the union's 7,000 members in Orange County and Long Beach, contracts for about 2,200 expire in January at Disney's three resort hotels: the Grand Californian, Paradise Pier and Disneyland Hotel.
Members said their health-care costs are increasing and that the price of employee meals has nearly doubled, while workers nearby at the Anaheim Hilton, Coast Anaheim Hotel, Arrowhead Pond, Convention Center and Edison International Field all get free meals.
In addition, union officials have filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board that accuse Disney of threatening employees.
"Disney has taken an especially hard line in intimidating the workers," Torres said, adding that -- though there have been labor disputes at the theme park before, including at least two strikes -- this was the first major march that she knew of.
Guillermina Gomez, a Disneyland Hotel housekeeper, said that she had been shoved by a manager while trying to lodge a complaint about workers not getting their break time. "The company has lost its magic," said Gomez, speaking Spanish through an interpreter.
Disneyland Resort officials declined to address specific issues, instead noting that "the best place to address issues of concern is through face-to-face discussions as part of the collective bargaining process scheduled to begin in January."
Said resort spokeswoman Sondra Haley: "We have always had positive relationships with the unions, and a productive dialogue is an integral part of that relationship."
This week, Disney sent letters to union members reminding them of the impending contract negotiations. The letter, from Jerry Montgomery, Disneyland Resort's senior vice president of labor relations, noted concern that union officials may encourage members "to engage in public demonstrations and, potentially, inappropriate conduct which we believe, in both the long and short run, serves the best interest of no one."
They also attached a letter Disneyland officials sent to Torres warning that employees could be disciplined or dismissed if they violate terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
Under those terms, union members cannot interfere with work at the resort.
Union attorneys were incensed.
"It is unfortunate that Disneyland chooses to threaten retaliation against the workers who participate," they said in a written response to Disney. "No such retaliation is legal and all remedies available under the law will be invoked in the event Disneyland harms any of these workers in the slightest."
Thursday's march, which began in front of the Anaheim Convention Center across the street from Disneyland and at no time entered Disney property, was peaceful, police said.