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Disney faces complaint from labor board

Walt Disney World Co. violated labor laws when it displaced hotel custodial employees last year, a complaint filed by the federal board that oversees labor issues between unions and companies claims.

Disney has until Dec. 14 to respond to the complaint, which was filed Nov. 30 by Rochelle Kentov, the National Labor Relations Board's regional director in Tampa. A hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge was scheduled for Feb. 5.

"We have fully complied with our negotiated collective bargaining agreement and we have done nothing that would constitute a violation of the National Labor Relations Act," said Jacquee Polak, a Disney spokeswoman.

The complaint claims Disney changed working conditions without proper notice and failed to bargain with an employee union last year when 185 custodial workers were displaced. The employees cleaned Disney hotel lobbies and ballrooms in the early mornings, said Morty Miller, president of UNITE HERE! Local 362. The union represents 5,150 Disney employees.

Some of the displaced workers found other jobs with the same early morning shift, while others had to work a different shift at a lesser hourly rate. Some employees quit, Miller said.

"The issuance of a complaint is quite serious," Miller said. "As a trend this is very serious for the community of Orlando."

The complaint was filed after a yearlong investigation. Disney was given the opportunity to settle the case before the complaint was issued, but declined, said Karen LaMartin, spokeswoman for the NLRB Tampa regional office.

Disney failed to bargain with the union over what would happen when these workers were displaced, specifically whether they would be placed into new jobs or compensated for the loss of their jobs, Miller said.

Miller also said Disney is turning high-wage, benefit-level jobs into low-wage jobs without benefits and is outsourcing more jobs to vendors who will cut wages and benefits.

"We're always finding creative ways to staff and service our resort in a smart, efficient way," Polak said. "And we realize the impact that business changes like this have on our workforce and we're doing everything we can to minimize that impact."

Disney has another complaint against it that will be heard on the same day. In that complaint, the NLRB alleges that Disney refused to turn over information regarding employee health-benefit plans to the Service Trades Council Union, which represents six local unions, including UNITE HERE! Local 362. The coalition, also headed by Miller, represents 29,000 full-time and part-time employees.

LaMartin said it's NLRB policy not to comment on the specifics of cases.

After the February hearing, the administrative law judge will issue a written ruling that can be appealed to a five-member board of the NLRB in Washington that makes a final determination.

If the judge rules against Disney, possible penalties include providing back pay to the displaced custodial employees or bargain with the union over the terms of displacement. The company could also be ordered to provide the information about medical benefits.

Of 25,000 charges filed each year by individuals, unions and companies, about one-third are found to have merit after an investigation, the NLRB said. Over 90 percent of those are resolved by a settlement.