Only higher wages will solve labor troubles at Disneyland

January 10, 2006, 11:38 AM · I have said it before, and now I will say it again. If you are running a theme park -- or any business -- and you want your employees to show up for work more often, to show up on time more often and to provide a higher level of service than employees for your competition, there is one, sure-fire, astonishingly easy way to do it.

Pay them more money.

Because if you pay your employees the prevailing local wage for entry-level service employees you're going to get average, entry-level service-employee quality from them. And if you pay less, as Disneyland does, you're going to have absent, indifferent employees across the front line of your organization.

Al Lutz today reports rumors of a possible strike by attractions employees at Disneyland in March. Such talk is to be expected during contract negotiations. If a union fails to convince management that employees will walk, it is leaving money on the table as management has less incentive to make concessions to avoid that strike.

Lutz reports that the sticking point in this negotiation is Disney management's desire to gut existing rules that allow some employees to draw full-timers' benefits without doing full-time work. Of course, the union is entitled to negotiate any issue it wants. But Disney could solve its problems with high absentee rates and employee turnover without having to negotiate new rules with its unions.

Just jack up its wage scale a couple bucks an hour.

Trust me, if Disney were paying $12 an hour to start, employees wouldn't think about skipping shifts for anything less than debilitating illnesses. And for those who did kiss off their shifts, a long line of dependable applicants would be queued up to take their places.

And if the union was thinking ahead, it would give Disney what it wants, sacrificing its no-show members... but only in exchange for a massive wage increase, across the board, for those hourly workers who remain. (Remember, more money in the paycheck means more money for dues.)

A great service business needs great service. And money buys great service. Period. If Disney and its union want to waste breath talking about control, flexibility and respect -- fine, whatever.

But if Disney wants better employees, and the union wants a better deal for its members, the solution is achingly clear.

Show them the money.

Replies (5)

January 11, 2006 at 8:24 AM · Sorry this is long, but I have to disagree with some of what you have said.

I have been both a union and managment employee. While I was a union employee (IBEW local 1389), we trusted our delegates to work hard on our behalf to ensure that "the establishment" worked for our best interest as well as their own.

I knew that with union protection, management favoritism wouldn't play a part in my raises, my advancement, or being let go. Even then, there were plenty of people who wore their union shirts while skipping work to go to the beach.
I worked because it was my job. It's what I was hired to do and I was fully aware how much I would make when I started. And even though my raises were not based on my performance but were negotiated by the union, I still never once considered taking that job and then holding it hostage with my absences or sub-par productivity. When I was young we called that integrity.

I started with a great salary. My raises were substantial. I had the best benefits, 401K, tuition reimbursement...the list goes on. And yet there were people who took that privilege with a grain of salt; calling in sick on Fridays and Mondays knowing it would be hard to get fired with the union behind them. There's a great potential for employees to "hold back" their best effort when it doesn't matter whether you apply yourself at 75% or 100%. If there is a downside to unions, it would be that they often enable people who lack integrity to take advantage. So case in point, a few dollars more doesn't necessarily solve the no-show issues. It can though make higher paid slackers who will continue to use the union as a shield.

When I took a managment job and was no longer union, I knew it would be challenging to create a motivational climate even when my crew was making a good salary. I didn't own the electric company, I wasn't even an "upper boss" so there was not much I could do to get them more money. Those in my crew with strength of character and a positive attitude were rewarded with the best working environment I could provide, comraderie, fairness and loyalty from me. Those who slacked off or held the job hostage because they thought they were worth more than what they were getting got my best effort to see them let go. Why? Because they shouldn't have taken the job if they thought it didn't pay what they were worth. Plain and simple. My boss pays me to do a job - that's why I do it. If I don't like it, I'll leave, I'll talk to the union, I'll help effectuate positive change, but I wouldn't just not show up. It hurts the people you work with more than management. While they're skipping off to the mall or watching the Lifetime Television marathon because they're not getting paid what they think they should even though they took the job quick enough (a job that could have been taken by someone else who really wanted it), their co-workers are picking up the slack and doubling up their efforts. Unions shouldn't need to protect people like that - their job is to protect the rights of those who want their job and do it with pride. They should be working with Disney management to get rid of the no-shows before they negotiate for higher pay. The hard-working employees will have gotten a two-fold reward then - higher pay and an opportunity to have a new co-worker on their team who won't do to them what the slackers did.

The senior citizen who greets me at my local Walmart doesn't make more than minimum wage. But he hands me a cart with a smile and a cheerful hello. Every time! He asks me if I found everything okay and if I didn't he'll walk me to it and even put it in my cart. He comes from an era where jobs were scarce and times were hard - sound familiar? An honest days work was rewarded with a pay check and one would never think of not showing up unless they were really sick.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that Disneyland employees don't deserve a raise. Many probably do. Sadly, quite a few probably do not. But their smiles, hard work and best efforts shouldn't come from an extra dollar or two an hour. If that's the society we have raised then shame on us.

January 11, 2006 at 9:32 AM · I agree with your conclusion... if you're talking about people who are making a living wage. But Disneyland employees are not. In fact, few full-time, front-line theme park employees do.

Once wages fall below a certain, living-wage level, those wages drown out all other factors in motivating aggregate employee performance. Union protection of job security is irrelevant if an employee is not earning enough to afford to keep the job for more than a few months.

As for senior citizens at Wal-Mart, there's a reason the greeter is almost always a senior citizen: Because the senior is likely drawing a pension, using their Wal-Mart wages only to supplement their core income. That puts the greeter's cumulative income above a living wage -- making them a heck of a lot easier to motivate and present a cheerful image.

January 11, 2006 at 11:49 AM · Agreed. If they are recieving sub-standard living wages they are entitled to greater salary and benefits packages, but same principals still apply to slackers.
PS: My Walmart greeter is living off of social security, not subsidizing a pension. Wish the opposite were true.
January 11, 2006 at 4:07 PM · Why is this only a problem in Disneyland and not, for instance, Disney World?
January 11, 2006 at 5:36 PM · It's not. It is a problem at every theme park. It's just that Disneyland's contract is coming up, and that's where the strike talk seems loudest. Disney's also union-organized, unlike some other parks, which makes it possible for these issues to be heard.

When companies aggressively deny employees the right to organize, through intimidation and threats, as business such as Wal-Mart and McDonalds are widely alleged to have done, employees get zippo chance to work collectively to improve their pay and working conditions.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive