Disney offers tuition for hourly workers’ online classes

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More than 80,000 hourly employees at Walt Disney Co. will be eligible to take online courses starting this fall that will be paid 100 percent up front by Disney, the company said Wednesday.

Disney, which is currently in labor talks with its largest Walt Disney World union, released more details on the new $50 million education investment program that chief executive officer Robert Iger revealed in January.

Iger announced the education program at the same time as the $1,000 bonuses that Disney said it planned to give out because of the corporate tax cut approved by Congress and President Trump last year. The cut was expected to reduce Disney’s tax bill by hundreds of millions of dollars this year.

For the program to help employees pay for school, Disney will spend $50 million initially and then pay up to $25 million annually in the future.

Under the education program, Disney employees can take courses toward a high school diploma, a college degree or vocational skill.

A Disney spokeswoman said the online courses are the first rollout of the tuition program and employees would be eligible for in-person classes — at Valencia College as well as other schools — in the next phase beginning in January.

The program was “no strings attached” meaning employees could take classes in a field unrelated to their Disney jobs and could also leave the company after earning their degrees without any commitment.

The online courses would be administered through the Denver-based Guild Education, which also handles a tuition program for Walmart employees. University of Florida’s online program was one of a handful of schools listed on Guild Education’s website.

Disney called it “groundbreaking,” and added textbook costs would also be reimbursable.

“Walt Disney Company supports our cast members’ career aspirations,” said a video on the Disney parks blog.

Disney already offers a tuition reimbursement for full-time employees.

Disney and the Service Trades Council Union, which represents more than 35,000 employees at Walt Disney World Resort, are negotiating a new contract and whether union employees will be included in $1,000 bonuses. The labor talks have been ongoing since summer 2017.’

The union had no comment Wednesday.