updated 3/8/2005 3:49:54 PM ET 2005-03-08T20:49:54

Walt Disney World's largest union group demanded Tuesday that the company open a free generic-drug pharmacy for workers and limit increases in health insurance premiums.

The Service Trades Council Union, which represents 40 percent of Disney World's 51,000-person work force, said a free pharmacy would save the company and workers money by encouraging employees to use generic rather than more expensive brand-name drugs.

Walt Disney World could save more than $644,000 a year and employees could save $1.3 million a year, according to an analysis for the union group performed Sav-Rx Prescription Drug Services, a provider of managed care prescription drug services.

Workers in the six unions making up the council, which covers costumed characters, bus drivers, hotel workers, gift shop workers and ride operators, currently have a copay of $25 plus 10 percent of the cost of a brand-name drug.

"It's a win-win situation for Disney and its cast members," said Morty Miller, president of Unite HERE! Local 362, which represents custodial and vacation planning workers at the theme park resort.

Working with employers, Unite HERE! has set up similar pharmacies for casino and hotel workers in Atlantic City, Chicago and Las Vegas.

A free pharmacy proposal was presented by the union group to Disney officials last year during contract negotiations but Disney decided the plan didn't work.

Company officials disagreed with the Sav-Rx analysis and believed it wouldn't save Disney or workers money, Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Polak said.

"It wasn't the right program for the cast and company at the time," Polak said.

Polak said the company has explored pharmacy options in the past but she refused to offer any details.

The union group's members last year accepted a three-year contract that included no provisions about a pharmacy.

"Obviously the company and the Service Trades Council have a labor agreement in place, and the union recommended that cast members approve the contract a few months ago," Polak said. "So it's kind of taken us by surprise ... that this is surfacing right now."

Union officials also called on Disney not to implement provisions in the contract that allow the weekly cost of health insurance paid by workers to increase in 2006 and 2007.

"We just want to put the heat on the company to keep this problem on the forefront," said Joe Condo, head of the union group.

Polak said the company planned to honor the terms of the agreement, including the increases in health care insurance paid by employees.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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