Orlando Local News

U.S. union support reaches a nearly 60-year high

todaySeptember 5, 2022 2

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Support for workers’ unions is now at a nearly 60-year high, according to a recent Gallup poll showing 71 percent of Americans approve of the cause. Union approval hasn’t been that high since 1965.

What You Need To Know

  • Support for workers’ unions is now at a nearly 60-year high

  • Union organizer José Castro says the United States’ cost of living is a factor

  • Castro helped lead those negotiations

Walt Disney World employee and union organizer José Castro says the United States’ rising cost of living – especially in places like Orlando – is one major factor. 

“It’s because of the union that I have the life I have right now,” Castro said. He leads the housekeeping division of UNITE HERE Local 737, a union representing about 18,000 local Disney employees who work in food service and hospitality. 

Of those 18,000 members, about 3,500 of them are housekeeping employees with Disney, according to a union spokesperson. And as of October of last year, those housekeepers’ minimum wage is $17 per hour – a huge jump from the $6.90 hourly wage Castro says he started at, back in 2006.

Back then, Castro had just moved his family to Orlando from Puerto Rico. But he says they didn’t initially stay long – partly because they simply couldn’t afford to live here.

“The biggest challenge we had was cost of living versus wages,” Castro said.

Today, that imbalance continues to pose a major challenge for hospitality workers, Castro says – although the landscape has certainly improved a lot, following the union’s negotiations with Disney back in 2018. Those negotiations ultimately led to Disney housekeepers’ $17 hourly starting wage, which took effect last October.

Castro, who helped lead those negotiations, is proud of what the union’s been able to accomplish to date. But he says $17 an hour is still not enough.

“We have people living in cars,” Castro said, referring to some of the Disney staff members represented by the union. “We have people living in the forest, we have people living in motels.”

According to a recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Orlando workers need to earn $56,880 a year in order to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. But the median income for area renters is just $49,760 – a difference of more than $7,000, according to the report.

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todaySeptember 5, 2022 2