December 5, 2017

Joel Mendelson

Disney World is Anything But Magical for its Employees

Update (10/4/18): Working people at Disneyland and Disney World resorts won their campaigns and ratified three new union contracts over the course of the summer and fall! At Disney World resort in Florida, employees will see their minimum pay raise to $15 an hour by 2021, and both resort and hotel employees at Disneyland in California will see the minimum hourly pay reach $15 by January 2019. In California, Disneyland employees continue to fight to pass a ballot measure in the November 6 election that could raise wages even higher at Disneyland and are hotels that receive tax rebates from the city of Anaheim.

The Walt Disney Company offers magical experiences for millions of families at its theme parks. When the average family spends more than $6,300 for a weeklong trip to Disney World, it’s no wonder Disney rakes in enormous dough.

Given Disney’s profits, it may come as a surprise that the men and women who operate rides, portray your favorite costumed characters, serve your food, and clean up the parks often struggle to make ends meet. Wages at Walt Disney World are 68 percent lower than the national average, with Disney paying as little as $13,000 per year. Some individuals working at Disney World can’t afford a place to live because the giant corporation underpays its staff.

The nearly 40,000 people who feed, entertain, and serve guests at Disney World refuse to wish upon a star in the hopes that one day Disney will grant family-sustaining jobs. Instead, they’re demanding a fair return on their work.

The working people of Disney are coming together through their unions to achieve a living wage, $15 to be exact. That amount is the minimum of what folks in the Central Florida region need to sustain themselves and their families. The working men and women of Disney World have held major demonstrations in Orlando and engaged the community to support their campaign.

Boosting the working conditions at Disney World could transform living conditions in Orlando – improving quality of life for the families of the people who work there, and for those who work in the tourism industry throughout central Florida. As the largest employer in the region, when Disney ups its standards, other companies typically follow suit.

Disney rakes in more than enough to make things right for the people who work for them. According to Forbes, the Walt Disney Company is worth almost $180 billion, making it one of the top 10 most valuable brands in the world. CEO Robert Iger earned around $44 million in 2016. Disney theme parks generate one-third of the company’s operating revenue. In 2013, Disney made $2.2 billion in profits from its parks alone.

Disney also spends considerable sums upgrading and expanding its theme parks. In 2016, the company announced plans to build a series of Star Wars themed areas at its parks, at the projected cost $1 billion each to construct. Disney also built a themed area based on James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, estimated to cost $500 million.  So if Disney has the means to invest significantly in its theme park division, why not invest in the people at Disney World who are driving the company’s success?

There are countless tales of work life behind the scenes at Disney World that put the beloved corporation to shame. Disney refuses to allow the servers who work at Disney World’s restaurants to keep their tips. Mercedes McEnroe, a server at Disney World since 1982 told Orlando Rising she hands over her tips to management. “That all go back to Mickey Mouse,” Mercedes said.

An anonymous Disney World employee asserted that Disney indoctrinates employees and requires you to “sign your life away” to work at the park. Employees agree to “work whenever and however long Disney wants.” She said that some of her co-workers worked 80 hour weeks and as a Disney cast member, you were on call 365 days a year.

Diana Geary is one of the park employees who works round the clock. She works 40 to 60 hours a week at Disney World and still struggles to pay her bills. Even with overtime, Diana can’t afford a home she can call her own. At 41-years-old, Diana lives with her parents.

In March 2017, the Department of Labor found Disney guilty of forcing employees to pay for costumes out of their own pockets. As a result, many Disney World employees made less than the minimum wage. The Labor Department investigation also found Disney failed to compensate employees properly for overtime. The Department of Labor ordered Disney to provide back pay to more than 16,000 employees to the tune of $3.8 million.

The company’s history of putting profits before people dates back to Walt Disney himself. The founder opposed people’s freedom to join in union. When Disney cartoonists tried to come together in union, Disney retaliated. He hired armed guards, cut wages, and slashed their benefits to intimidate the cartoonists and anyone else who dared to band together in his burgeoning empire.

Disney does not have to carry on the poor legacy of its founder. Instead, the corporation should recognize the immense value working people provide to theme park guests every day. The men and women of family-friendly Disney World deserve job standards that value their families. Until then, working people and their allies across Orlando will keep protesting to expose the charade that Disney World is the most magical place on Earth.

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