UPDATE 1-Disney World workers say they rely on handouts

Tue Nov 30, 2010 6:20pm EST

* Disney World's largest union made claim amid wage talks

* Mediation is set for Thursday in contract talks

* Talks affect 27,000 full-time workers in central Florida (Adds Disney comment on employee health plan)

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Fla., Nov 30 (Reuters) - The largest union representing workers at Walt Disney World (DIS.N) has produced a documentary critical of wages and benefits at the Orlando theme park intended to increase pressure on the company to raise its hourly wage offer in current contract negotiations.

The documentary, titled "Mouse Trapped 2010," was scheduled to premiere at a union meeting on Tuesday. A trailer for the documentary can be seen here

In it, an employee identified as Doug in the Animal Kingdom said on camera, "For me and my family to survive, we have to go to the churches. We have to go to the church and we get handouts."

Bryan in the Transportation and Ticketing Center said in the documentary, "I can work for 50 hours a week and bring home $165 because of my insurance and other deductions that come out of my check."

"It's about putting pressure on the company in advance of mediation. This is us yelling a little louder," said Eric Clinton, president of UniteHere Local 362, one of six unions under the umbrella Service Trades Council negotiating a new 42-month contract for 27,000 full-time workers at the theme park.

Covered employees -- who include bus drivers, waiters, custodians, parking attendants and front desk staff -- currently are working under an extension of their old contract, which expired on Oct. 2. Clinton said workers in his union on average are paid $10 an hour. Mediation is set for Thursday.

Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger said the company, central Florida's largest employer, is standing by its original offer -- voted down by the union -- of 3 percent raises each of the next three years.

"We're maintaining it's a fair and competitive offer," Finger told Reuters.

Clinton said, however, that Disney also wants to increase the health insurance premiums paid by employees by more than the pay raise, with the result that workers would wind up with a net loss of 8 cents per hour.

The only way to avoid the loss, Clinton said, would be for workers to step down to a cheaper "value" health insurance program that Disney is offering, which he said would cover catastrophic medical conditions but not typical doctor visits.

Finger said some employees might need to scale back their health coverage to avoid a drop in take-home pay but insisted most could keep their existing plan and still see a raise.

"An overwhelming majority of cast members will get more pay at the end of three years," she said.

The union wants workers to at least break even and hopes for a net raise of 10 cents an hour or more, Clinton said.

"We know the federal government is operating at a deficit," Clinton said, reacting to the recently announced federal employee wage freezes. "But Disney has the exact opposite situation. They made $3.3 billion in profit last year. Disney could lift the standard of living in this town (Orlando) if it wanted to." (Editing by Jane Sutton, Kevin Gray and Steve Orlofsky)