Many families head for Walt Disney World over April vacation. It’s a fun place to take kids of many ages, and even the most cynical and grouchy grown-ups are likely to end up enjoying themselves. Encouraging this cheery mood has always been part of the job of Disney World workers, and it’s a job they do well. But this April, these workers are not feeling so cheerful, and the Magic Kingdom, for all its splendid illusions, looking an awful lot like the real world of low-wage service work in America.
Disney World pays entry-level workers only 33 cents above Florida’s minimum wage of $6.67, and about 41% of its employees make less than $8.50. Disney workers must also pay thousands of dollars a year for their health insurance. Like many service workers, Disney workers are expected to make themselves available to work at almost any time of the day or night, but are only guaranteed 32 hours a week, and are often not told when they will be working until the last minute; this policy wreaks havoc on family life. Disney has also been “outsourcing” –using outside contractors instead of hiring its own workers — a practice that lowers labor standards significantly for all its employees (Walt Disney himself renounced this practice as he found it resulted in lower standards of hospitality and service). You can learn all this and more from We Are Disney.Info, a website set up by the Service Trades Council Union, a coalition of union locals representing Disney World workers. The site has personal testimonials from Disney workers, people like Judy Claypool, who has been with the company 17 years and feels personally insulted by its conduct. “When Walt Disney World outsources our jobs,” she says, “they disrespect our hard work and years of service.” Others describe the material hardship of low pay and unaffordable health insurance. The Disney workers will be re-negotiating a contract beginning April 28, and they’re hoping to improve their lot.
If you’re planning a trip to Disney World, don’t cancel your plans just yet. The workers are not encouraging the public to boycott. But do keep in mind that underneath that Mickey Mouse or Goofy costume may be a disgruntled worker struggling to pay his own family’s rent, and let Disney know you support him.