Disney Hotel Workers to Fast

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The OC Register reporting on the ongoing dispute between Disney Hotel Workers and Management:

Some Disney hotel workers today said they are willing to risk their own health by joining a hunger strike for the sake of securing free healthcare benefits.

Today, the Disney hotel union, Unite Here Local 11, announced that 10 members plan to start a hunger strike on Tuesday to draw attention to a two-year contract dispute. The participants plan to consume only water for at least seven days.

Disney officials say the union is using the strike to distract from the negotiations stalemate.

“This is just another tactic from Local 11 leadership to distract from the fact that after two years their members are still without a contract,” said Suzi Brown, a Disneyland Resort spokeswoman, in a prepared statement Wednesday.

The main contention is over healthcare costs: Disney wants employees to contribute to the company health plan. The union wants to keep providing its own free health care for about 2,150 members, with Disney kicking in more funds.

In the past two years, employees say workloads also have increased, some leading to health problems, said Ada Briceno, the union’s secretary-treasurer. Disney officials say that the workload has remained about the same and injury reports have collectively decreased in the past two years at the three hotels: Grand Californian, Paradise Pier and Disneyland.

“We are offering Local 11 the same reliable and affordable heath care coverage in which members of the other 30 of 31 unions at Disneyland Resort and more than 66,000 Disney employees nationwide participate,” Brown said in a prepared statement.

Basema Sharaf, the widow of a hotel cook, said her husband died on the job of a heart attack, which she attributed to his failure to take breaks and to working extra hours.

“He worked under a lot of pressure and stress at Disneyland,” Sharaf said.

Kristi Richards, a Grand Californian Hotel cashier who worked with Musa Sharaf, tearfully said she is fasting to pay respect to her co-worker and support others.

In the past, Richards said she went to work while sick because she couldn’t afford to lose money, as employees have lost sick days because of the contract dispute. But she has since saved up vacation time to take a week off. See a previous story about the sick-pay issue HERE.

“I’ve done everything I can do,” Richards said. “I’m basically out of ideas.”

The participants plan to camp out in tents on the sidewalk in front of the Grand Californian Hotel starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday and are inviting others to join in.

It is illegal to block the sidewalk and officers have been talking to union organizers about logistics, said Sgt. Rick Martinez, an Anaheim Police Department spokesman. Briceno said participants plan to leave room for pedestrians to pass by, but they are willing to get arrested.

“We’re hoping it doesn’t come to that,” Briceno said.

On Friday, Disney urged union officials to meet with a federal mediator, which union leaders said they would do. But Disney had yet to receive a response from the union as of this morning.