Disney’s theme parks might look on the surface like some of the happiest places on earth, but brewing labor unrest in Anaheim and Orlando shows that they might actually be miserable places to work.
Currently, tens of thousands of unionized Disney workers are in a standoff in tense contract negotiations, and Disney is currently repaying them with an attack on a long-overdue bonus. Joining other megacompanies that sprinkled a short-term wage boost to “share” a tiny piece of Trump’s tax-cut windfall, Disney originally offered a $1,000 one-time bonus to its workers as a benevolent gesture. But it’s currently denying that bonus to more than 40,000 workers in Orlando and Anaheim, who are holding out in negotiations to push demands for a better contract. Meanwhile, 80,000 other Disney employees are getting the bonus with “no strings attached,” according to the union, UNITE HERE. For the workers, their right to a fair contract is worth more than the CEO’s noblesse oblige, so they’re continuing to push for more at the bargaining table, even if it means forgoing the temporary wage boost for now.
But the bonus fight is just a tiny piece of the real struggle that workers have faced for years: Losing a $1,000 bonus doesn’t compare to the wages the union says it’s been losing out on due to a lack of a decent raise for the past several years. Many workers at Disneyland Resorts in California are struggling with unlivable wages, battling poverty, homelessness, and woefully inadequate health care. So underneath Disney’s manicured landscapes, the groundskeepers, hotel cleaners, and other service workers are barely surviving.
An extensive survey of union workers at the resorts in Anaheim, by researchers at the Economic Roundtable and Occidental College, found that Disneyland turns out to be lagging behind state law in terms of progress over the years on wages and social mobility. Though Disneyland is one of the state’s major tourist attractions, drawing some $3 billion in revenue annually, the union workers surveyed in the study earn only about $11.15 per hour in a typical workweek—a marked decline in real wages since 2000. Paradoxically, wages across the region are climbing steadily, thanks to key minimum-wage reforms that were spurred by the Fight for $15 campaign, demanding $15 an hour and a union.