Tag Archives: disney

Musicians Perform Outside As Bob Iger and Oprah Talk

Musicians held a rally in late September with a brass band performing outside the 92nd Street Y in New York City—while Disney CEO Bob Iger talked with Oprah Winfrey inside the building.

Iger was at the Y to promote a new book and discuss his self-described “decency-over-dollars” approach to doing business. The musicians were out in the street calling on Iger to put “decency-over-dollars” into practice and pay musicians fairly.

“I can’t believe that Disney is making billions of dollars, but won’t even pay me fairly. Playing for weddings actually pays better than working on a multi-million-dollar Disney project. How can Bob Iger claim to value decency over dollars when the musicians who score his films and television shows are struggling to pay the rent,” says Adriana Molello, a violinist and member of Local 802 (New York City).

Musicians have been negotiating a new contract with Disney and other major studios including CBS, MGM, Paramount, NBCUniversal, Sony, and Warner Bros for over two years. The main area of dispute is streaming residuals.

“Every other group of artists that work on Disney streaming projects receives fair residuals. These residuals are vital to the livelihoods of freelance musicians. They allow us to maintain a basic income and do the creative work necessary of artists,” says Ray Mason, a trombonist and composer, and member of Local 802.

Actors, directors, musicians, and writers have traditionally received a small portion of revenue from the films and television shows they work on. Disney continues to pay actors, writers, and directors for streaming work, but refuses to pay musicians for streaming.

Musicians explained that extremely profitable companies like Disney, which earned an estimated $59.43 billion last year, are demanding that they take huge cuts. Without streaming residuals, a musician effectively takes a 75% pay cut when a Disney film is released on Disney Plus versus in theaters or on network television.

The networks and the musicians have negotiations scheduled for early October in Los Angeles.

Coalition of Unions Stands Up to Disney

For at least 30 years, we at Local 7 (Orange County, CA) have been scratching our heads wondering why unions that bargain with Disneyland don’t put their heads together, exchange information, and support one another. As it turns out, other unions have been thinking the same thing.

In August 2016, Local 7 joined with 10 of the 26 unions representing Disneyland Resort employees to form the Coalition of Resort Labor Unions (CRLU). This is the first time in 60-plus years anything like this has happened. CRLU consists of Bakery and Confectionery Workers International Union Local 83; United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324; International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Locals 504, 923, and 706; SEIU United Service Workers West; Workers United Local 50; American Guild of Variety Artists; Independent Employee Services Association; UNITE HERE! Local 11; and AFM Local 7. Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) and Clergy & Laity for Economic Justice (CLUE) have allied themselves with CRLU.

AFM Local 7 (Orange County, CA), along with 10 other unions, formed the Coalition of Resort Labor Unions (CRLU) to lobby for improved working conditions and pay for Disneyland Resort employees.

The catalyst for this historic alliance was a draconian attendance policy unilaterally promulgated by the company. After 11 unions presented 11 demands to bargain, leafleted employees on their way to work, and staged two town hall meetings, the policy was withdrawn. This was a first!

Next, the coalition set out to collect hard data about the economic conditions of resort employees. CRLU underwrote a survey that was independently conducted by the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, in partnership with the Los Angeles-based Economic Roundtable. The resultant 125-page report is damning. In summary, it found that 11% of employees surveyed reported having been homeless—or not having a place of their own to sleep—within the past two years and 68% of workers surveyed are food insecure. Disneyland is the primary source of income for 91% of these workers, but only 54% work full time. The average hourly wage for these employees in real dollars dropped 15% from 2000 to 2017 (from $15.80 to $13.36). Meanwhile, a proposed compensation increase for Walt Disney Company’s CEO equals the total pay of 9,284 Disneyland workers.

Disney’s defensive and flat-footed response was to attack the survey as politically motivated, inaccurate, and unscientific; it’s unclear if statistics are taught at Mickey Mouse school. The full report can be downloaded at: https://economicrt.org/publication/disneyland.

The report was announced at a February 28 CRLU town hall with more than 1,000 people in attendance. Get a sample of the energy at this standing room only event, at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdooUVl4lwY.

The morning after the town hall, CRLU proposed a ballot initiative to the City of Anaheim. It proposed a minimum wage of $15 per hour for any large hospitality company receiving city subsidies. The minimum wage would increase by $1 annually to $18 per hour in 2022. Signatures are currently being gathered.

An independent survey of Disneyland workers conducted by the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute and underwritten by the Coalition of Resort Labor Unions found that 11% of workers had been recently homeless and 68% are food insecure.

On March 8, CRLU went to the annual Disney shareholder meeting in Houston. We were joined by SEIU Texas, as well as Teamsters and UNITE HERE! from Disney World. There were dozens of workers outside the meeting holding banners, handing out flyers, and talking to the media—as well as a half-dozen or so inside. We got the company’s attention. There were security guards and cops galore—and a very fine looking dog.

An Inspector Clouseau-like character tailed us with a camera at lunch and during our debrief in a nearby park. When confronted, he mumbled something about “urban planning” and “photographing the park” and scuttled back into the conference center.

Interestingly, the meeting, which had averaged an hour and 45 minutes for the four previous years, was cut off at one hour and six minutes—coincidently just as the first union member arrived at the microphone. In all, 10 questions were heard—well, a few questions and copious blown smoke.

Disney CEO, Robert Iger, reportedly said it best: “We’re getting a lot of praise and not questions, but I’ll take it.” In another notable coincidence, for the first time ever, 52% of attending shareholders voted against a nonbinding resolution to increase Iger’s compensation. That was taken “under advisement.”

In closing, there’s a lot of buzz in the media and online about our presence at the shareholder meeting, the survey, the town hall, and the living wage initiative. Please visit the CRLU Facebook page. This coalition is little more than 1½ years old; it is truly remarkable what can be accomplished when workers unite and work together in solidarity.

Updates From the Secretary-Treasurer’s Desk

List of Locals

Recently the List of Locals booklet was updated and uploaded to the afm.org website. We are in the process of mailing hard copies of the 2018 booklets to all AFM locals. If you have not received your office copies yet, they should be arriving soon. Changes to the List of Locals are updated on our website regularly and are announced in the International Musician. Any changes to your local’s information should be sent by email to AFM Executive Assistant Nadine Sylvester (nsylvester@afm.org) with a copy to AFM Assistant Secretary Jon Ferrone (jferrone@afm.org).

Disney Campaign

The campaign to increase pay for many Disneyland workers is underway. It has been reported that some workers cannot make ends meet due to their low wages. Some of them sleep in their cars and shower at the park before starting their shifts. A coalition of unions, including AFM Local 7 (Orange County, CA), have been hard at work shining a light on this intolerable situation. To learn more, see the article by AFM Local 7 President Bob Sanders on page 12 in this issue of the IM.


AFM membership numbers continue to decline. At year end 2016 we had 69,386 members and at year end 2017 we had 67,540 (excluding multiple memberships). This represents a decline of 1,846 members. Declining membership remains a serious challenge. The more members we lose, the weaker we become as a union. Declining density has a direct correlation to diminishing power in the workplace. We must build our membership, if we are to remain healthy and strong. Resolution No. 1, adopted by the 2016 AFM Convention delegates states:

“… That the AFM implements and makes available an officer training program with the focus on membership retention and recruitment as well as general office procedures, as a means of combating declining Federation membership.”

The officer training program has begun its second year. Judging from exit survey responses, those who have participated in the training give it high marks. It’s too early to tell if the training program will have the desired positive effect on our membership numbers. Much of the results will depend on training participants putting into practice what they have learned from the program.

Purchase of a Floor for AFM Office

After months of negotiations with the seller of a floor within a building in lower Manhattan, the deal has fallen apart. We were very close, but at the eleventh hour, the seller walked. There are currently no other floors available for purchase in lower Manhattan that meet our space requirements. Purchasing space in midtown Manhattan is not an option due to the high prices. As you might imagine, this is very disappointing for both AFM President Ray Hair and me. We are exploring the possibility of leasing space in our current building (but on a different floor) or leasing space in another building. Our current lease expires January 2019.

Lester Petrillo Fund

A total of 48 recipients received a distribution from the Lester Petrillo Fund in 2017. These distributions totaled $20,025.

Hurricane Relief Fund

The Hurricane Relief Fund (for hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria) received $27,252.55 in PayPal donations, less $904.54 in PayPal fees, leaving $26,348.01. An additional $13,665 in check donations was received, bringing total contributions available for disbursement to $40,013.01. Disbursements to applicants in 2017 totaled $7,000. We continue to receive additional applications for hurricane relief and will continue to make disbursements in 2018.

Upcoming LCC/PCC Meeting

The Locals Conferences Council/Player Conferences Council (LCC/PCC) meeting will take place Saturday, June 16 and Sunday, June 17, at the Westgate Hotel in Las Vegas.

2019 AFM Convention

The AFM Convention will take place next year (2019) at the Westgate Hotel in Las Vegas. Registration will begin Sunday, June 16, 2019 and the Convention will adjourn Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Disney Union Coalition Files Unfair Labor Complaint

A coalition of unions for workers at Walt Disney World Resorts filed a federal unfair labor practices complaint accusing the company of holding employees’ $1,000 bonuses hostage during contract negotiations. Last month, Walt Disney Company announced it was giving the bonuses to each of its more than 125,000 employees after federal tax cuts reduced the corporate tax rate. However, the Service Trades Council said that Disney refuses to give the bonuses until the union approves a new contract, and if the employees don’t accept Disney’s offer by August 31, the bonus offer will expire.

“A thousand dollars is a lot of money to people who make $10 or $15 an hour,” says Ed Chambers, president of the trade council, which represents more than 35,000 Walt Disney World Resort employees, including bus drivers, and attractions workers. The trades council and Disney have struggled to reach an agreement since labor talks began in the summer. In December, union members overwhelmingly rejected Disney’s proposal that would have given a raise of 50 cents an hour or a 3% increase, whichever was higher.

How Local 389 Survives and Thrives in a Right to Work State

This summer The Music of Pixar, Live! A Symphony of Characters at Walt Disney World employed a 43-piece orchestra from May through August.


By the 1990s Local 389 (Orlando, FL) was going through really hard times, but the troubles started years earlier. “For a few decades the relationships between Local 389 and our employers were fairly abrasive. We had lost an orchestra, and due to brutal arbitration, things had gone south with the largest entertainment company in the world, Disney,” explains Local 389 President Mike Avila.

“In 1999 we decided to try a different approach,” he says. “We began meeting with employers for the express purpose of building trusting relationships.”

The strategy has worked. Local 389 has been able to survive, and most recently thrive, in the difficult “right to work” environment in Florida through relationship building and demonstrating to musicians what solidarity can do for them. “The end result has been better agreements (higher wages and better treatment of our players) and affording our musicians greater opportunity,” concludes Avila.

Each year members of Local 389 (Orlando, FL) perform with Walt Disney World’s 51-piece Candlelight Orchestra for 37 nights under an AFM agreement.


Brenda Higgins was inspired to serve on her local’s board after witnessing this change and the integrity and focus of Local 389 leadership toward improving the lives of local musicians. “It is always willing to stand against improper treatment of musicians and also to work out compromise without alienating management teams across the table,” she explains. “While there are those who feel the local should be more heavy-handed in its approach, we
have been successful in changing the
minds of many through patience, perseverance, and kindness.”

There has been an increase in live performance and recording opportunities both with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (OPO) and Disney. This spring and summer 129 members of the orchestral community were hired for May through August. A 43-piece orchestra is performing The Music of Pixar, Live: A Symphony of Characters at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, seven nights a week, for 94 consecutive nights, under an AFM CBA.

“The great thing about this summer gig is that most of our players would go on unemployment in the summer; instead, they are getting $285 per night, plus pension, and they get to be Disney employees and enjoy many benefits of that as well,” says Avila.

Musicians performing in Walt Disney World’s The Music of Pixar, Live! A Symphony of Characters worked under an AFM collective bargaining agreement negotiated through Local 389 (Orlando, FL).

A cellist, Higgins has worked in Orlando since 1975 when she won an audition with the now defunct Florida Symphony Orchestra (FSO). “A core of former FSO musicians came together as Music Orlando, later renamed Orlando Philharmonic, a per service orchestra,” she says. An active Central Florida freelancer for more than 40 years, she has been a member of the Disney musical team since the late 1990s and plays in the Candlelight Orchestra at EPCOT every season. This summer she’s also performing in The Music of Pixar, Live!

“The scales and working conditions have steadily improved under the current 389 administration,” says Higgins. “The Orlando Philharmonic, which was a non-union successor to the unionized FSO, has been organized and we are working with
management to forge a consensus for a CBA going forward.”

“We are in negotiations with the OPO, as our CBA expires August 31,” says Avila. “Due to the aforementioned relationship-building these are the most productive talks we have ever had with an Orlando-based orchestra in my 34 years in Florida. Both sides are working hard to come to a place of mutual satisfaction.”

Meanwhile, Disney has also hired two other full-time bands with benefits, two part-time bands working three days per week, and several solo and duo musicians to entertain in the resorts. The 51-piece Candlelight Orchestra begins its run in mid-November with 37 nights of performances. “Prior to our philosophical change in 1999, that orchestra was contracted (1099) with no pension or benefits. Because of our changed relationship with Disney they are all now working in-house as employees,” says Avila. “Disney is providing a total of around 140 services for Orlando’s orchestra musicians in 2017.”

“This covered work has served to bring some local musicians on board with the union, thus strengthening the union in numbers and influence in the community,” says Local 389 Secretary-Treasurer Sam Zambito, who is also president of the Southern Conference of Locals. “Our working relationship with Walt Disney World has been amicable and productive.”

Disney also worked closely with the union to produce a Star Wars concert recording and streaming event, featuring the Orlando Philharmonic, conducted by John Williams of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 9-535 (Boston, MA). “We’ve had several long-running engagements during the past 24 months where Walt Disney World staffed their shows under the conditions of our CBA, rather than turning to third-party contractors,” he adds.

To increase their negotiating power with Disney even more, in January Local 389 joined a coalition of representatives from every major labor organization that has a CBA with Disney World and Disneyland, including Local 7 (Orange County, CA) leadership, President Bob Sanders and Secretary Tammy Noreyko. “East meets West!” says Zambito. “It was fairly informal, focused on sharing our knowledge base and strategies. We are now working together for mutual success.”

“The union has gained great respect. We have created a situation where it is so clear that all the musicians benefit by working under CBAs. Some of the most vocal union opponents have realized that things are really improving and have come on board, says Zambito. “The state of Florida is traditionally extremely anti-union and the central part of the state doubly so. We have about 95% participation rate overall. In the long term it’s going to help us achieve greater solidarity.”

“The current anti-union sentiment in our country is disturbing, to say the least. And it is frustrating that so many in the labor force fail to see that only unity can provide balance in the workplace,” says Higgins. “In a right to work state with a governor and legislature who wake up every morning with a commitment to ensuring that unions never regain strength, the battle is uphill and ongoing. The AFM, both nationally and locally, must remain mindful that balance is found through consensus and mutual respect, not ugly rhetoric.”

Lawsuits Claim Disney Colluded to Replace US Workers

Before being laid off from Walt Disney World, Orlando, one year ago, Leo Perrero spent months training a temporary immigrant from India to do his technology job. Along with former Disney employee Dena Moore, he has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Disney and two global consulting companies, HCL and Cognizant, which brought in foreign workers. The lawsuits represent the first time Americans have gone to federal court to sue both outsourcing companies and the American company that contracted with those businesses, alleging they collaborated intentionally to supplant Americans with H-1B workers.

The Labor Department is investigating the outsourcing at Disney, as well as at Southern California Edison, a utility that laid off hundreds of American workers in 2014. At least 30 former Disney workers filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that they faced discrimination as American citizens.