It’s Hell to Work at the Happiest Place on Earth

Disney is supposedly the cornerstone of every American family’s dream; two and a half kids, a white picket fence, and a family vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. But the reality of Disney World employees that make your trip extra magical is anything but happy: low wages, employee poverty, a weakened union, and company-proposed “bonuses” that force workers to jump through additional, strenuous hoops in order to receive their justly deserved benefits.

The entire company posted a quarterly net income of $4.42 billion in February and, thanks to the Republican tax cut, the company posted $9.3 billion dollars for 2017. Any proposed bonuses of $1000 for lower level employees would only constitute 8% of a nearly $1.6 billion expected windfall from tax cuts, and the promised bonuses are now bargaining chips meant to force the unions that represent Disney World and Disneyland to agree to lower wage increases of only $.50 or 3%, whichever is larger. Already, the 80,000 nonunion workers saw $250 addition to their paycheck, with a promise of $750 to complete the bonus; the union workers, numbering 38,000 employees, have seen nothing. For a company reported to have pulled in nearly $10 billion in the last year, workers who make the parks run smoothly every single day deserve to have living wages, without the fear of homelessness or food insecurity.

Many employees do suffer from being homeless and are food insecure. For example, nearly 85 % of cast members make less than $15 per hour, and 11% have experienced homelessness in the past two years. Wages at Walt Disney World are 68% lower than the national average, some working for as little as $13,000 per year. Meanwhile, in an attempt to limit the number of housekeeping employees, predominantly women, Walt Disney World offers guests “incentives” in the form of $40 Disney gift cards in exchange for declining housekeeping services each day. Though declining is still in its testing phase, it is a way for the company to save money and cut costs, at the expense of the “mousekeepers” who are employed at the resorts.

While wages at the park for most employees are subpar, housekeepers and custodians at both American parks suffer the most from the lack of a living wage, as seen in the story of Eritrean immigrant Yeweinisht “Weiny” Mesfin. A loyal night custodian in Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, Mesfin went missing after Thanksgiving weekend in 2016. She was found dead, on December 19 in her car outside a 24 Hour Fitness Gym. She had suffered a heart attack on November 30, was struggling with homelessness and living in her car in front of the gym she had a membership with so she could take a shower for work. A reliable employee, she worked six days a week, at 48 hours a week, and was unable to afford an apartment even though she worked full time hours. Three days after she went missing, she was automatically terminated as per company policy.

Angered by Disney’s dismissive attitude concerning the plight of Disney employees struggling to secure wage increases sufficient to pull them out of poverty, former custodian and friend of Mesfin, Vanessa Muñoz, wrote of her friend’s death, nearly a year later, “Someone out there on third shift at Disney now wears my Weiny’s beanie, her sweater, shirts and pants. Someone out there is about to give as much as Weiny did for a company that refuses to pay the employees an affordable living wage.” It may be too late for Mesfin, but maids and other employees at Walt Disney deserve living wages as they provide a magical experience for all guests to the parks.

If you could, please sign this petition in solidarity with Disney workers, who are being strong-armed into signing a contract against their interests for the bonuses that they were promised. The Walt Disney World Office number is 407-939-2273. Tell them Weiny sent you. #StopDisneyPoverty

(Photo Credit: OC Weekly / Vannesa Muñoz)