Walt Disney World employees demand a living wage

Long, drawn out negotiations between Walt Disney World and the Services Trade Council have not resulted in a contract for the 20,000 cast-members the STC represents. In this video, the affected cast-members explain how their wages have failed to keep pace with inflation, meaning a de-facto paycut that has some of them visiting local food-banks to stay fed. Disney's cast-members are some of the most remarkable people I've ever met; as a visitor to Walt Disney World, I want them to receive a living wage.

Disney World Union takes offensive


  1. Either Paper or Radar Magazine did a piece on The Maus’s wage slavery back in 2005, where the character actors get minimum wage and live on-site at “Vista Lay,” because it’s the only housing they can afford, the cost of which Disney deducts out of their pay.

  2. I live in Orlando and know Disney employees, both in parks and in company HR. They are crazy passionate for the company but they share bedrooms in cramped apartments and take buses everywhere in town and can’t afford to have families. There’s such a glut of applicants here that Disney doesn’t have to worry about retention of employees.

  3. It’s not surprising, but incredibly disappointing. A lot of the people who work there do it because they love Disney and like to be there, even if their job is just flipping burgers. Even if they’re more than capable of working a much better-paying job.

    Disney’s taking advantage of the fact that people move to Anaheim (an expensive place to live) from all over the country to work at Disneyland. Considering how expensive everything is at Disneyland – which millions of visitors are more than happy to pay, in part because of the great service – and how much money the company rakes in otherwise, it’s pretty pathetic of them I’d say.

  4. they are stuck in CONTACT negotiations?? Nice typo or Freudian flick?

    I had a friend work there for a year … yes, the cost for staff housing was deducted directly from his pay-check .. and men / women’s dorms were strictly separated … and the food was bland and bad … he had to turn off his being a vegetarian and actually looked quite plumb when he returned …

  5. Wow, that music seemed a little exorbitant.

    Good that videos like this are being published though, to raise awareness of companies getting away with all sorts of terrible stuff just because they can.

  6. Jesus Christ. I’m not naive enough to imagine that companies won’t save money anywhere they can, but that’s still pretty terrible. Certain jobs and companies you expect minimum wage from, but not these. Maybe they could replace them with robots based on FoxConn chipsets. Zing!

  7. Oh and the unions at Disney for the most part are giant joke, some of the trade unions like electricians and carpenters actually have power. But the unions that represent food and beverage and park staff, you know the ones guest actually see have no power and are in lock step with the company. They put on a show for negotiations but that’s all.

    When I worked there i was told to reject the contract the first time it came around, 2 months later the same exact contract and the union had posters printed us telling us how great it was and we should sign.

    Also I have looked for it but never been able to find. Legend has it that Eisner was on Larry King in the 90’s and when asked how he could justify what he pays his employees he referred to them as “trained monkeys”.

    Basically to put it bluntly Florida is a horrible state to work in. There are little to no protections here and nothing is actually enforced. Up until I started my own company a year ago it had been 6 years since I had a lunch break. You work forced overtime, get paid crap, have hours disappear from checks and there is not much you can do about it here. And now that the unemployment rate is around 16% in Florida you are really screwed because having a job where you are abused is better then having nothing.

    1. Florida is one of the worst states to work in.
      Companys like Walt Disney World are getting away with low wages because the unions are not powerful.
      A wage of $8.71 after 8 years at Disney should send you packing to a strong union State like New Jersey or New York.
      Disney wont pay better until people stop wanting to work there out of desperation due to the recession.
      If Disney had a hard time finding interns,part timers,etc they would have to pay better.

  8. What’s interesting to me is how people are always forgetting that the Disney corporation is utterly evil.

  9. If Disney really wants to play hardball, they can always threaten to replace the workers with Scientologists, who’ll work for rice and beans and are already signed to a billion-year contract. Welcome to Tomorrowland.

  10. I have been fighting for living wages for a long while, and so have a lot of people where I work, almost 20 years in some cases…

  11. This should be a theme park workers issue, not just Disney. As someone who worked, overqualified at Universal Studios and had friends working at Disney: Universal is equally an issue, if not much, much worse.

    1. Actually it should be a national issue. Whenever people attack companies for not paying a living wage you have to wonder why it is legal for them to not pay a living wage.

      1. As much as I’d like to agree, I have to say that not every worker needs a living wage. The teenager getting a part-time job? Doesn’t need a living wage. The retiree with enough to live on who just wants to get out of the house and have something to do? Doesn’t need a living wage.

        Do I think the current federal minimum wage is absurdly low? Yes, I do. But requiring that every employee be paid a living wage isn’t necessary, either.

        1. So do you think we should set the minimum wage on what a teenager or wealthy senior has to make to make ends meet?

          The trouble with that is that it holds pay rates down for low-wage workers who don’t have any other monetary support.

          Why not treat all people who work with the dignity to be able to support a family and live comfortably?

          Disney “posted a profit of $835 million, or 43 cents a share, for the three months ended Oct. 2.”

          Is it so wrong for the workers to want a piece of the $835 million in profit the company made in one freakin’ quarter?

          Perhaps we should do away with unemployment insurance as well. Gee, my teenager and my grandpa don’t need to work, why does anybody who got laid off need unemployment?

          How about the federal poverty level? If a kid in high school makes zero dollars in a year, but still has a comfortable life, should we then set the federal poverty level at zero dollars a year?

  12. They should just rename the documentary Life at Mousewitz, make it a jazzier title and for family friendly.

  13. The union isn’t exactly playing nice either.


    I wouldn’t say Disney is evil, just because they like to make money. Everty company has that right. As long as there are more people wanting to work at their parks then there are jobs, Disney will pay them next to nothing. It may not be fair, but unfotunately it’s common business tactics.

    1. No Geekdad, Disney is not evil because they like to make money.

      They are evil because they employ people at a rate that prevents them from earning enough to live on.

      The whole idea of a living wage (what Cory is calling for in this piece!) is that you can, you know… live on it.


      Just because there is a glut of employee choices, doesn’t mean that you have the moral right to abuse them. The problem is that in the corrupt economic framework we currently live in, where capitalists have no morality and are driven only by the bottom line, we have forgotten our common humanity.

    2. Your ocregister article is about Dinseyland in California. This is about Disney World in Florida.

      FWIW, the Orange County Register is very right-wing, and very propagandistic, along the lines of Fox News, so I’d take anything they say with a grain of salt, especially if it’s union-bashing.

  14. I worked there for 3 weeks in the summer of ’94, setting up an exhibit for a big corporation. It was hell for me, but I really felt sorry for the people with full-time jobs. The union stagehands and electricians seemed well paid and feisty, but the regular grunts were treated like serfs. The uniform shirts were some sort of unnatural fiber that was plastered to their skin with sweat by 7 AM.

    We were supposed to never be seen by the public, so we arrived outside the ring, and had to get to the exhibit via a large tunnel. It was built with a concave floor like a sewer to allow the dumpster juice from the food services to flow unimpeded. I think of that stink every time I think of Disney.

  15. Anybody who is surprised by this should look into how Walt treated his animators. At least nobody is getting blacklisted this time.

  16. I’m surprised Disney doesn’t encourage their workers to supplement their incomes from the taxpayers as one billion dollar corporation did (maybe still does) when they encouraged their minimum wage workers, during orientation, to sign up for welfare.

  17. then don’t work for them. walk away, move your family. you’re not an indentured serf. Admit that Disnay are assholes and move on with your life. Surely that’s better than living on handouts.

    1. Do you also think that flying is not a right and that I should get scanned or not fly?

      It costs money to move, if you’re not being paid a living wage, you’re not saving up enough to move. Additionally, you might have familial ties that bind you to one area or another. You might also not have a high enough education to switch careers. There are a thousand reasons to change the broken system, not just move away and let it become someone else’s problem.

      1. Exactly, mccrum. In my case, I’d love to do something other than retail, but the only other work skill I have (data entry) tends to only be temp-to-hire work. Still, the partial unemployment (to which I’m legally entitled, I hasten to add) comes in handy.

      2. Absolutely agree. If you don’t have enough money to pay your bills or buy food, you don’t have money to put a security deposit on a place in a new city, or risk months of unemployment while looking for a new job, and if you have kids you can’t yank them from school.

        People can certainly cast around for new jobs, but as one of the other Orlando-based writers implied, the city is propped up by low-wage touristy jobs and higher-paying jobs that exploit people who work in the first category.

      3. since when was flying a right? but i digress. i understand it costs money to move. but not that much. What it costs is effort.

        Go to the web cafe and apply for jobs, write a resume, get on the greyhound bus (you guys still have those right?) Maybe you end up working 18 hour days for a while with the job and working towards a better life. Maybe it takes 6 months before everything is settled. Maybe you need night school to get the qualifications you need.

        But you’ve taken positive steps towards a better life for your family and you’ll be be much better off in the end.

        Or, you know, you could stick around doing a young adult/kid type of job like Cinnamonbite says and moaning.

        Have some ambition. If not for you then for your family.

  18. If they are unionized and without a contract, don’t they have the right to strike? A closed park for a day or two would quickly get Disney back to the bargaining table. That’s what it would take to get a decent wage, not a PR video.

    Unfortunately, Disney is not alone in doing what is financially best for their stock holders at the expense of workers or end clients. Try being a Toronto sports fan. The Maple Leafs could have a parade down Bay Street as the “most fiscally successful hockey franchise” every year while putting a crap product on the ice.

    Morality doesnèt please shareholders, the bottom line does.

  19. Sorry to go all Marxist, but bad wages are a class-wide issue. This isn’t something unique to Disney employees. Employees at Taco Bell, Macy’s, and your local Shell Station are in the exact same situation.

    Until this generation of working Americans become conscious of their class, and act accordingly by unionizing, voting, and otherwise undermining the policies of their corporate overlords, the quiet misery of the working class will continue.

  20. I’ve had many friends work at Disneyland since I went to school at CSUF. It’s pretty known that they pay pretty badly and the work requirements are very strict. People do this because they simply love Disney. They want to work in Disneyland and they take that cut. The sentiment of the work culture is that it is a privilege for you to be allowed to work at Disneyland.

    I’ve met people who not only work there full time, but then go and spend their days off at Disneyland too. They live is pretty crummy apartments in Anaheim (there is a big run down neighborhood believe it or not).

  21. re. Monstrinho_Do_Biscoito’s comments;

    The problem with ‘just move’ is that with the economy in the sewer most companies are acting this way. The place I’m working was a great place to be, 3 years ago. As soon as the recession hit management became petty, vindictive, and draconian. Now, even though the recession is technically over and the company has returned to ever healthier profits; with unemployment stubbornly high, they are trying to force through wage role-backs.

    ‘walk away, move your family’, sure. Where? Believe me, I would be gone in a second if I could find something that pays the same, (or even almost as much) and treats employees with respect and provides a physically and mentally healthy work environment.

    1. This goes for other decisions in life as well. 6 or 7 years ago, an adjustable rate mortgage wasn’t a bad idea. Just move or refinance in a couple years and it’s all good. When things go bad, you’re stuck and you have to work really hard to get out of it. It sucks when that happens, but you can’t expect a handout whenever times are tough especially when the cause is poor planning and bad decisions. That comes across as harsh and I think that the ideal is somewhere in between giving assistance to those in need (whether or not due to bad decisions) and being accountable for yourself. For example, Astragali comment above, maybe he is stuck in retail and partial unemployment for the near future, but what is stopping him from starting down the path for a new career? I’m sure it won’t be easy, but if you really want a change, then you have to make the change happen.

  22. I feel for the people that get stuck in a situation like this, but it is also a matter of supply and demand. There are a large number of people willing to take a job at Disney for meager pay just because the will work for Disney. I enjoy my work well enough, but there are other things that I could have choose that I would be much happier doing with the downside of low job prospects and/or low pay.

  23. Oh PLEASE. First of all, this is a young adult/kid type of job, much like burger flipping and pizza delivery. There is a high turn over rate and no one is really expected to last that long.
    So a middle-aged man in this position is really just…pathetic.
    As for a Disney not paying a living wage–bullocks. I lived just fine in an apartment I shared with no one. Paid my bills just fine, including my car and student loan for years. They’ve always paid more than minimum wage and for what the job entails, the money is more than fair.
    BTW, the ones living 6 to an 2 bedroom apartment are the Epcot employees from other countries. They all live in the one apartment complex, don’t have any problem with it because it’s easy to find a party after work. Never heard any of them complain and I dated many an exciting European man out of there, back in the day.

    1. Really?

      So kids and young adults don’t need a living wage?

      Why is that exactly?

      Or burger flippers and pizza delivery drivers?

      Why shouldn’t they earn a living wage? I’d love to hear your answer.

      1. because those jobs don’t have any responsibility or require any skills. That’s what people pay for.

        1. You are exactly wrong.

          Perhaps what you mean is that the responsibilities and skills required for these positions are different than the responsibilities and skills you exercise in YOUR job.

          Why should service industry folks have to work 18 hour days to make ends meet and live a satisfying life? You sound like a 19th industrialist.

          Are you familiar with the concept of common humanity?

          You think your stress is worse than the stress of working in a restaurant? Or do you think stress is relative?

          If you have an asshole boss who treats you like shit, does it matter if you work in an office or in a kitchen? An asshole boss is an asshole boss. Customers are customers. Work is work. It takes all kinds to make the world go ’round.

          And what’s this stuff about young adult/kid type jobs? Who decided that? That’s ludicrous.

          So a kid should flip burgers, but a chef at an upscale restaurant should be what? Middle aged? A senior citizen? A twenty year old? Who decides that? That position makes no sense.

          I suppose its natural for certain people to want to drive wages down even further for the low-wage and middle-wage workers. You know, in order to further fatten their 401Ks and their portfolios and their bonuses. Is that your position, monstrinho?

          1. you misunderstand me. I said you might have to work extra hours for a while, emphasis on the ‘a while’ put that extra effort into working towards making your life easier and more fulfilling.

            not slave away in the same crappy job for more hours to make ends meet.

  24. 16 toons and what do you get?
    Another day older and deeper in debt.
    St. Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go.
    I sold my soul to the Disney Store.

  25. OK…..

    First – Disney gets around paying fair wages by calling all its employees (even the cleaning crews wear costumes) “cast members” so they fall into regulations covered by the arts. They screw ’em six ways to Sunday. I grew up in So Cal, have known several cast members, and know this for a fact. The union has to be there.

    Second – Checked around and it looks like they’re currently (in FL) paying full time permanent employees $7-8/hr. Now that might be legal ($7.25 is minimum), but in addition to taxes and insurance, anyone who plans to stay with the company is expected to join the union and pay union dues while making minimum wage!

    Third – Apparently, most families working for Disney in FL, qualify for food stamps. Here’s a direct quote, “disney’s employment woes are their own victim. It is impossible to make a livable wage as a full time hourly cast member. Many of the apartment on US 27 where cast live are under section 8 (?) housing, subsidized by the government. I worked full time at disney and made less than $15,000 per year.” One person who has worked there for 15 years makes less than 35k.

    Fourth – I realize some people are saying “Disney’s a job for teenagers. Let the high school students take the jobs,” but the problem is they’d get paid MORE (thanks to the required union) at Taco Bell! So most teenagers looking for short-term work wouldn’t bother. Some jobs at the parks need to be filled by permanent employees, and the wages need to be compensatory. They want long-term employees – they even have rewards programs with incentives for people who stay. They’ve just gotten too cheap.

    and I could go on….

    (source for quote: http://www.topix.com/forum/county/osceola-fl/TH0LIHP2BBMBH1PMO)

    1. But if the teenagers can do better at Taco Bell, why wouldn’t the people working at Disney go for those jobs?

      I can sympathize that Disney should pony up a bit more for their employees, and would still say that if I owned shares in the company. But, the other side of it is that if that many people are willing to work in that environment why should Disney shell out. Especially if people can do better at Taco Bell. Disney is a company, not UNICEF. There is a fine balance between making sure employees aren’t abused by employers and impacting a company’s business.

      Also, why would a person stay there for 15 years making only 35k? You can’t tell me that that individual could not have moved on to another gig within that time frame. Either they like the job and are at least content with the low pay for the enjoyment of their work, or they weren’t motivated enough to leave. There are always exceptions, but over the long term, most people are where they are because of the decisions they made.

      1. Upward mobility is fairly stagnant right now.
        Making a stand and raising hell for more of the company’s revenue is exactly the right move for these folks.

        Employees have the right to move on. But they also have the right to speak up and tell managers, stockholders, and anybody who will listen their view that they deserve more of the wealth the company is generating.

        To some degree, asking people to move on to something better is asking them to accept the narrative of upward mobility.

        Upward mobility, especially right now, is to some degree a myth.

        Sorry to go all Marxist as Anon #26 says, but that pervasive rags-to-riches story is a favorite of those in power to dangle in front of the working class:

        Work harder and someday this too can be yours. But don’t you dare make a stand and demand it now. There are plenty of people who would be more than happy to have this $7.25 per hour. How dare you question how much the middle managers make or how much the CEO makes or how much the dividends we pay to the stockholders are? That is none of your concern. Your concern is to work hard or to move on. It is not the place of the low-wage earners to question the pay scales of this company. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

        That’s the message of the move-on-to-another-job crowd. Is that the kind of organizations we want in our world?

        Should we be encouraging totalitarian management in our world’s corporations or democratic management?

        if you speak up and say you want more now, we will

        Just work harder just work harder just work harder and someday you can have a meaningful wage and life. Well who does that benefit?

        (I happen to believe upward mobility is simultaneously a myth and a reality)

        Until this generation of working Americans become conscious of their class, and act accordingly by unionizing, voting, and otherwise undermining the policies of their corporate overlords, the quiet misery of the working class will continue.

      2. Hey Curt, it’s mainly because Disney’s so good at advertising. Taco Bell sells Tacos, Disney sells Wonder, and to their employees they sell a lot of promises.

        Disney makes a lot of promises to people about what a long-term career with the company will mean for them. They tend to hire young, and then they elevate people from within, giving them desirably advertised positions (like ride operators on popular rides like the haunted mansion or a hostess at Club 33) with more responsibility but without sufficient raises.

        Meanwhile, they have jobs within the parks set up as union and hourly jobs, so unless you give up your pay to the union, you can’t even apply to the better jobs. They make it a competition to stay and achieve the goal of getting that “dream job” in the park, but there’s no real difference in the benefits. As far as your time being there goes – Disney can put together a lot of package benefits of travel and park visits, so they get away with some things by people thinking “but we could never afford to do these things (take family vacations, etc.) otherwise.”

        Just like everything that Disney does, it’s a lot of glitter, with nothing substantial underneath. You asked why a person would stay there making only 35k? These people aren’t idiots, but they are dreamers. It takes a special kind of person to walk around in 90 degree (and higher) temps covered from head-to-toe in a furred costume just to make a kid smile. They stay because they want to believe in the dream that is Disney – naive, yes, but I’m glad they’re finally fighting.

  26. They *have* to use forced child labor in China and serfs in the US – that’s what makes billionaires possible!

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