have commissioned a study that claims that two-thirds of the resort's hourly employees don't have enough food to eat three meals a day and that nearly one in ten has experienced homelessness recently.Unions representing Disneyland cast members
The unions are aiming for a substantial pay increase for Disneyland cast members. But the acute troubles that the unions' researchers have documented among lower-income workers hardly are unique to Disney employees in California.
Housing prices in California are insane, thanks to a reinflated bubble that has transformed homes from places to live into tokens for investment income. No actual resident can afford to outbid the flippers and foreign investors who have driven the state's median home price to nearly eight times the state's median household income, according to data from the state of California and the state association of Realtors. Rental prices have followed, with even one-bedroom apartments in the Anaheim area unavailable for less than $1,100 a month and most rents going for hundreds of dollars a month more than that. With 85 percent of Disneyland's hourly cast members earning less than $15 an hour, according to the report, it's no wonder that many Disneyland cast members are squeezed trying to pay for rent, transportation, and food, especially if they face any health care expenses or student loans on top of that. Millions of other Californians, who aren't flipping homes or living off equity from buying in decades ago, are struggling too.
The report said that 79 percent of Disneyland's hourly employees are 30 or older, which illustrates another problem in today's economy. Low-income jobs ought to be entry level, not careers. I worked as a Disney cast member when I was just out of college, making a few bucks more than minimum wage. But like many of my fellow cast members, I moved on to other jobs. Some of my former co-workers moved up within Disney. Most found work elsewhere. If you were good at the skilled tasks required in your CM job, maybe you found higher-paying work in building or maintenance trades. If you were better with people, perhaps you found a career in sales or management.
Having neither type of skill, I became a writer. But, hey, I made more money writing a book about being a Disney World cast member than I did from my entire time working as one.
That was a long time ago, though. (I believe that Disneyland was still using live dinosaurs in its Grand Canyon Diorama back then.) With outsourcing, offshoring, and automation allowing companies to shed full-time, benefitted employees, it's becoming harder and harder for low-income workers to find anything more than other low-income jobs out there. With upward mobility cut off, a low-income job at Disneyland has become a career for many cast members, instead of the stepping stone that it was for so many of us in the past.
I always will root for theme park employees to get paid more. In my view, every theme park employee in the world deserves a raise for the work they do. You can't pay theme park employees enough for the value they bring to this industry. (Actually, that's not just a theme park thing. That's an inherent feature of capitalism — a major source of profit comes from underpaying workers for the value they add or create.) As Disney uses price increases in an attempt to better manage its ever-growing crowds, it is bringing in plenty of cash to afford to pay its cast members a healthy raise. How much should they get? That's up for both sides to negotiate. But even low wages should be living ones, especially from highly profitable companies.
Just because plenty of other workers are getting screwed in the modern economy doesn't mean that Disney's cast members shouldn't do what they can to get the best possible deal from Disney. That's one of the reasons why their unions commissioned this study. They want to make a public case for why Disney's cast members need more money — either directly from Disney via a new contract or indirectly via pressuring local lawmakers to raise the minimum wage.
"While Disneyland and the Walt Disney Co. have seen increased profits, employees have not shared in Disney’s success," a press release for the union-commissioned report states. "In the past ten years, the number of visitors to the Disneyland Resort and theme park has increased from 20.6 million in 2006 to 27.2 million in 2016. Park revenue also increased from $1.72 billion to $3.03 billion in the same period. Merchandise costs, park attendance, and Walt Disney Co. revenue have also increased significantly. Last week, Disney increased Disneyland tickets by 9 percent with peak-period one-day tickets costing $135. [Yet] wages for more than half of the union workers at Disneyland have decreased when adjusted for inflation."
You can read the full report at economicrt.org/publication/disneyland.
Update: A Disneyland spokesperson questioned whether the 5,000 respondents to the union-sponsored survey reflected a scientifically representative sample of the resort's 30,000 cast members.
(Stats major interlude: You need only a few hundred respondents to make a survey scientifically representative. But they need to be randomly selected from the entire population and not just those people who felt motivated enough to respond to a broad call to participate.)
"This inaccurate and unscientific survey was paid for by politically motivated labor unions and its results are deliberately distorted and do not reflect how the overwhelming majority of our 30,000 cast members feel about the company," Suzi Brown, Vice President, Communications of the Disneyland Resort, said in an email.
"While we recognize that socio-economic challenges exist for many people living in Southern California, we take pride in our employment experience."Tweet
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