Union documentary portrays poor working conditions at Walt Disney World

November 30, 2010, 10:46 PM · The Happiest Place on Earth displays a much sadder side as workers on Tuesday unveiled a union-produced documentary reflecting their poor working conditions.

The Service Trades Council, which claims to represent about 25,000 Disney cast members, has been in negotiation with the Disney bigwigs over pay increases since June. Although Disney officials have offered three-percent wage increases, the union members have rejected the offer. Reasons have ranged that the increase isn't good enough in face of the current recession to working long hours with small benefits.

Curious viewers can watch the documentary's trailer on YouTube which include testimonials from cast members.

One man, David, complains that he has worked there three years and is still making under $8 an hour. A glance at the comments section of the YouTube video seem to collect a number of angry people who know of Disney's practices and are thrilled for the video's release.

Personally, I've worked for a theme park before and if you're at the bottom of the chain, long hours of repetitive tasks for minimum wage is the norm. I entered the park working $7.25/hr and left two years later at $7.73/hr. It's difficult to work for dung while maintaining the smiling image of the company... but like many other theme park employees, I didn't want to leave because the people you meet are priceless and having free admission to many other theme parks was awesome!

In this recession (and any jobless time) when people hold onto their money, anything travel-related is one of the first industries to struggle. Of course Disney was not spared and naturally its employees are feeling the squeeze. I'm all for better working conditions at theme parks but I highly doubt that Disney will be able to fully satisfy the union until the economy improves.

Here's more:
Bay News 9
Orlando Sentinel

Replies (25)

December 1, 2010 at 4:45 AM · This is the entire reason that I worked part time when I worked there. I know that most of the full timers worked long and bizarre hours to make ends meet.

As a first job, it's fine.

As a retiree job, supported by pension, it's fine

As a part time job, again, I can't say enough about it.

Working for $8.00 an hour as a full time job, working 50-60 hours a week... that has to take it's toll on people, and I saw it time and time again. People get burnt out doing this, and you can see the wear it places on them and their families. But they do it, because they love it, and there are few other places to work in the area.

December 1, 2010 at 5:57 AM · Would be interesting to hear from some insider how big of a budget item in percentage of revenue terms those low paid days to day operation staff members are. I think i read that it was surprising low percentage, something below 20%.
December 1, 2010 at 6:50 AM · Florida is a right to work state and the Union Bosses for years have been beside themselves in their frustration to get every WDW castmember onto the Union rolls, but most importantly get those Union dues. Do Not Be Fooled! The Unions want only one thing and that's control. I don't have time or patience to truly extrapolate on how the Unions suck the life out of the workplace and exist only to fatten the wallets of Union bosses. The people on this video are the squeaky wheels that are trotted out as the rule rather than the exception. Say NO to a fully Unionized WDW!
December 1, 2010 at 8:26 AM · Unions built America's middle class, and the decline in union representation within America's workforce explains the stagnation and decline in real wages for American families over the past four decades better than any other reason.

So I believe that Disney's workers deserve every dime that they can negotiate from Disney's management. And this film is a negotiating ploy.

Bravo, I say. As a theme park fan, I prefer that the union find negotiating leverage in any other avenue than a strike. That's be a horrible outcome for all involved.

December 1, 2010 at 8:27 AM · (Con't.) Disney can afford to pay its workers more, recession or not. The company is wildly profitable, and theme parks historically have returned one of the most consistently positive returns on investment of any area within the company.

That said, much of what park employees do is not high-value labor. You don't need beyond a basic education to do it, plus a few days of on-the-job training. (And I write this as a former theme park employee.) These jobs don't deserve to be compensated with mid-five-figure incomes. They are low-five-figure gigs.

Still, experience makes good theme park employees great ones - the one who can spot a problem (with a guest or equipment) before it happens and prevent it, saving the company thousands or millions of dollars. A theme park's median employee, ranked by time with the company, ought to have at least 24 months of experience. Less than that, the company has too much overturn and needs to raise wages. I don't know what that figure is for Walt Disney World these days, but I know that the figure had dropped to 12 months or less at Disneyland during the height of the housing bubble.

December 1, 2010 at 8:34 AM · I also wanted to say, shifting dollars from corporate profit to worker wages is a great stimulus to the local economy. Money in Disney's accounts in Burbank or wherever aren't being spent in the Orlando community as much as they would be if more of that money were in the hands of Disney World cast members.

More money for Disney World cast members means more income for all business people in the Orlando area. Everyone in Orlando ought to be rooting for Disney cast member pay raises.

December 1, 2010 at 8:42 AM · I started with Disney in a non union position back in 2002 at a wage of 10.74/hr and after 4 yrs left the company having seen substantial pay increase based on my performance and not a set amount like union cast members. I would like to see a comparison of pay for union vs non union cast members and see which is better. I bet if they conducted a survey of satisfaction with the company non union cast members would rate it higher then union cast members.
December 1, 2010 at 9:22 AM · Very well put Mr. Niles
December 1, 2010 at 10:00 AM · I almost don't know where to start....I believe that today, unions are only needed when there is an abusive employer, and Disney is abusive. As a guest, the Disney experience is truly magical. For the cast members it is shameful. Disney employs different punishment matrix's: one based on attendance and one based on rules that may not have been explained...and this is at the discretion of managers who are also poorly paid and woefully inadequate to manage people.

Most cast members I spoke with felt like peons. The real secret of Disney is how they get so much out of workers paid minimum wage. It was drilled into cast members on the wild life express to engage guests in conversation, notice and comment about kids in costume, and address every pin wearing guest noting their occasion. So the magic is not spontaneous but a daily part of the job. At daily meetings, the cast members were talked to the way I speak to first graders.

It is a terrific shame because Disney has the opportunity to be spectacular for cast members as well as guests.

December 1, 2010 at 10:11 AM · Would anyone else be surprised if Disney got this taken off Youtube? Those tilt-shift videos were produced for Disney, and I doubt Disney approved their usage here. They probably shouldn't, of course, since the filmmakers can then start with a "OMG Disney is trying to shut us down!" campaign.
December 1, 2010 at 11:44 AM · I agree with 110%. This is the same kind of dirty dealings that the union for the Disneyland hotels is using. They don't care about the employees, they ONLY care about getting more money. They are NO different than Disney.
On the other hand, Disney should know that paying it's people more will get better employees. For anyone in California, In-n-Out Burger is a perfect example of this. They pay on the high end and get the best of the best in terms of employees.
However, I don't trust this union AT ALL. Who's to say that they are even telling the truth.
I was a FORCED union employee at Disneyland, got written up, but still got a raise because it was union negotiated. The union didn't make for better or happier employees at Disneyland, just ones angry for having to pay $13 a month (which went up EVERY year).
December 1, 2010 at 11:58 AM · "They don't care about the employees, they ONLY care about getting more money."

I don't see the logic there. Hey, anyone who's fighting to get more money for me is on my side.

And in response to another post: Don't want to be treated like a peon by your employer? Join a union. Employers can afford to dismiss any single employee. They can't afford to dismiss an entire unionized workforce.

December 1, 2010 at 12:11 PM · It seems they lose their credibility right off the bat: "I'm hooked. I love what I do. I can't stand what I get paid."

Well, most Americans hate what they do and don't think they're paid fairly.

Still, Disney should really pay them more than minimum. The employees clearly love the company more than the company loves them.

December 1, 2010 at 12:17 PM · Thanks Robert...your comments are very welcome and it's true, the Unions built the Middle Class in America. Sure, some unions give others a bad name, but in the end the employees benefit when they can collectively bargain over their Wages/Hours/Conditions of employment...anywhere in America, especially in WDW.
December 1, 2010 at 12:18 PM · It's somewhat ironic that all these people voted for a certain person for President, said person increases healthcare premiums, and now they are screwed. Not Disney's fault.

The CMs at WDW should receive annual increases based on performance, but they have to realize the job they are working is also done by college kids brought in each semester for even cheaper then what they make. How much are Union Dues that these people are paying each week?

December 1, 2010 at 1:20 PM · Easy solution -

Don't work there. A lot of those jobs are unskilled, meaning you get paid minimum wage or a little more. You have no right to a higher wage. Either leave or learn a trade.

Demanding more from Disney will produce many more problems - skyrocketing prices, hiring freezes and so forth. Just because Disney makes billions doesn't mean you deserve a piece of the pie. You get paid according to your utility. If you think you're being paid less than your utility...leave. Don't turn into a tyrant and force companies to pay what you think is right. You become no better than what you claim the big company of being and you destroy the free market (and that hurts everyone).

I can't stand such nonsense.

December 1, 2010 at 1:43 PM · Looks like a great propaganda video from the Union. How, in the long run does this help the workes other than trying to get liberal public support for their cause. President Obama is asking for a freeze on Federal Employee Wages, the company I work for has a 3% MAX increase each year. Yet, for some reason, the Union thinks that their mmebers are above the rest of the working people. If these people want more wages they certainly can go get a new job.
December 1, 2010 at 1:54 PM · Econ 101: Demand sets consumer prices, not production costs. A pay increase for Disney workers will not cause a theme park price increase any more than a lack of a pay increase would prevent one.
December 1, 2010 at 2:23 PM · Pay increases set prices because the company can only "eat the cost" for so long (or they will decide not to do so anymore). It will attempt to "eat the cost" and then will pass the cost to the consumer at some point. That cost does not have to be in the form of higher prices. It can be in the form of an inferior product, less employees, etc. But it will be passed on.

This is one of the many reasons why Chrysler and GM automobiles cost so much more than foreign counterparts (and their product was inferior to boot). It cost so much more to hire unionized employees and those costs were passed onto consumers in the form of an inferior product. While you can buy a Honda with a moon roof for $20,000, Chrysler had to nix the moon roof because it had to pay every worker $50 an hour more for the same work the Japanese counterparts were doing. Consumers paid the price in the form of an inferior product. Chrysler paid the ultimate price until we bailed them out. The same will happen with Disney.

Again, if you don't like it, don't work there. It's still America. You still have choices (albeit more limited right now). Heck, this is a great opportunity to go back to school.

I've taken plenty of econ classes in college and financial analysis classes in law school. I fully understand how pay increases affect final costs. Pay increases that thumb their nose at the free market never end well.

December 1, 2010 at 3:54 PM · Robert A. Iger,
Director, President and Chief Executive Officer
Walt Disney Company

Total compensation package for the year 2009 $29,028,362.00

Front line WDW Cast member wage for 2009 $16,000

I don't believe that Iger is worth 1,699 times as much as the average WDW cast member.


December 2, 2010 at 6:02 AM · Well lets see..Haviing been a cast member at WDW for three years. Let try this one on. They are very demanding jobs, because of guest expectations. After all its Disney. That said Magic cost money. And Disney is the largest employer in central fl. 64,000 hour cast members. Thats a lot of people. ANd those poeple deserve to be paid a fair and livable wage. A lot of cast members cant afford to take a day off sick because of a point system for missing days. Tell me how i have personal time and sick time yet I go to use it I get a 1/4 point? Once I reach 6 points in Fired. And lots of cast members work a mandated 6 day work week during peek season. Often 10 hour days. AS the late great Walt Diney said. " Yoou can build the greatest place in the world. But if you dont have the correct people to run it. No one will come." or something like that. And those cast members peserve evey dime they can get outta of the company. With out them its just a amusment park. I no longer work for them. Ive moved on not because I didnt enjoy it far from it. I couldnt afford to live on it. ANd thats a shame. So tell your big doller mamagment teams . lets make this happest place on earth opf all the guests the cast and eveyone connected with us. Reward those who shine with promotions and pay raises and keep them here for they are turly DIsney.
December 2, 2010 at 10:14 AM · I have multiple friends that have worked at Disney. Everyone of them has terrible stories. Their wages were horrible. I think a lot of them stayed in the jobs because they liked working with people and making people happy. Disney does not care one hoot about their employee's. They only care about money and making the stock holders happy. I would have to say that Disney and Walmart our two of the worst employers in the United States. I find it hard to belief that they cant raise the pay to an acceptable level without hurting the company's bottom line. The current management in charge of the theme park divison is terrible. The parks are declining in quality and everything feels old and outdated. If your not going to invest in your parks at least invest in your employee's! I guess the jobs are ok for a retired persons or a college kid, but, those two brackets cannot substain the entire company. Everytime I go to Disney I feel more and more disapointed. I hope the management can turn things around soon, before it's too late.
December 2, 2010 at 11:21 AM · To Robert Niles:
I should have worded "They don't care about the employees, they ONLY care about getting more money." differently.
They ONLY care about getting THEMSELVES (the union and their cronies), not ME more money.

I think alot of this boils down to the employment market in Central Florida. It's all about supply and demand. Since there aren't alot of options in Central Florida, WDW doesn't have to pay as much as, say DL in SoCal.
Supply and Demand relate DIRECTLY to Robert Iger's salary as well. How many people can manage the world's largest media company? Plus ALOT of his pay is tied to performance and is in stock options (which he still has to pay for, albeit at a discounted price).

Again, I want to say that Disney SHOULD pay their workers a premium if they want premium employees. What I have a problem with is the strong arm tactics that unions use to try and extort more money from companies.
And what REALLY irrates me is that people believe that unions are out for THEIR best interests. They are NOT! Unions AND companies are out for THEIR OWN best interests, not YOURS. Was the UAW looking out for the 1,000s of GM and Chrysler employees when they drove them to bankruptcy?!? Was the UAW looking out for the employees of Saturn when they worked their hardest to DESTORY that division?!? Was the union that I was FORCED to belong to at Disneyland looking out for me? HECK NO! But they sure were looking out for my union dues each month.

December 2, 2010 at 2:37 PM · This issue has always been the problem with Disney for, like, forever.

It is nice to see them put it in film, but this is an old problem.

So this brings up the question: would you rather want happiness or money. From what I have heard, most people LOVE working for Disney!

December 2, 2010 at 8:47 PM · Thanks for the union support Robert - as a union member, I get to see everyday what a large company tries to do to it's employees. Thank goodness we have the union to help us fight for fair treatment & benefits. Would like to comment more on what goes on but I like having a job ..... & who knows who's reading this.
It's too bad Disney doesn't offer to cover employee health plans 100% - this way, the employees would "make" more money (since they would not be paying for their benefits) & Disney would "make" money by claiming it on their taxes. This seems to be a MAJOR issue with the employees - they are "losing" a lot of their paycheck due to deductions.
I feel offering this benefit would be a win/win situation for both the company & the employees - it would make the employees happy & it probaly would not cost the company as much - maybe the same - as if they were to give their employees the 3% raise.

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