More than 30,000 employees are trying to protect their free medical insurance benefits as unions began bargaining over a new labor contract at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., last week.
Disney was reportedly ready to present a plan that would require employee contributions for insurance premiums, ending a tradition of company-paid health premiums at central Florida's largest employer.
"While Congress talks about healthcare, Disney workers are organizing to protect the benefits they now have," said Mike Duffy of Local 362 of the Service Trades Council, a group of six unions representing 18,500 workers.
Workers ranging from character actors to carpenters may soon suffer a bigger bite in their paychecks.
With family dependents, some 75,000 people are involved.
Nearly three-quarters of the Disney workers covered by the Service Trades contract make no more than $8.95 an hour, Mr. Duffy said, and even a small copayment can put a big dent in their paychecks.
The company says, however, that tourism is down, and it has to make some cost-cutting changes.
"I think we're one of the few companies in existence that provide free health benefits to employees and their families without requiring they pay part of the premium," said Dianna Morgan, senior vice president for human resources and government and community relations for Walt Disney World.
Disney's current plan is "extremely unusual," said Barney Chepenik, president of an employee benefits firm in Orlando. "That's far and above what most companies in this town offer. It's just too expensive."
Disney's basic dental and medical plan has a $500 family deductible. After that, it pays 90% of medical costs until the employee's out-of-pocket expenses total $1,500. Then it pays 100% of further medical charges.