By Patrick J. McDonnell September 14, 2009
The company's cost-sharing proposal is at the center of a labor dispute, which broke out into a protest at the D23 Expo in Anaheim last week.
Jean Bustamante views the nation's raging healthcare debate in very personal terms.
Her 8-year-old son, Ethan, is confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, she says, and his medications alone would cost her $1,000 a month if she were uninsured.
"My job and the health insurance are a lifeline," said Bustamante, a single mother of two who works as a waitress at the Steakhouse 55 restaurant at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. "If that goes, I would lose everything."
She was among dozens of Disney workers participating in a noisy protest at the doors of the Anaheim Convention Center last week, on the first day of Disney's D23 Expo for the studio's fans. The employees are at the center of a nasty labor dispute focusing on health benefits that is jolting the self-proclaimed "happiest place on earth."
The clash pits image-conscious Walt Disney Co. against Unite Here Local 11, an aggressive union known for its street-theater militancy. On Thursday, union supporters dressed as Snow White, Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters staged a mass "sick-in" while Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger was scheduled to speak inside the convention center.
Local 11 says the company, which took in $4.4 billion in net income last year, has betrayed Walt Disney's family-friendly ethos by asking 2,100 employees of three hotels to pay a share of their premiums if they seek company healthcare.