An article in the Los Angeles Times reported that Disneyland Cast Members filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company. They claimed the park was failing to pay a living wage and therefore violating a 2018 measure, which made the payment level mandatory when a company is taking advantage of a tax-funded subsidy: a 10,000-space parking garage.
What does that mean? Here’s the explanation in plain English.
The Disneyland/Anaheim “Subsidy” Situation
Okay, back in 1996 the city of Anaheim wanted to encourage Disney to stick around and continue to invest in the original park.
So, Anaheim did the following:
- Issued a $510 million bond to upgrade the area around Disneyland.
- Rebuilt the convention center.
- Promised not to impose gate taxes on Disney tickets for at least 20 years.
- Provided Disneyland with a 10,000-space parking garage.
At the same time, Disney was building Disney’s California Adventure Park–being called “Westcot 2000” back then–across the street from Disneyland, as well as new hotels such as Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel.
This is nothing new. Cities everywhere throw money and promises to attract big-name attractions to their town. The “if you built it, they will come” philosophy is the reason why almost every single MBL and NFL stadium in the United States was created. They were built by the local government to attract teams.
Disney’s Parking Trouble
In that 1996 decision by the city government, the only investment they made on Disney property was the parking garage. The City of Anaheim built the parking garage with construction bonds–glorified I-O-U slips–, and they have a 40-year agreement to pay off the bonds. The city of Anaheim has ownership of the parking garage until the bonds are paid off, then Disney will take ownership. The LA Times reported back in 1996 that Disney guaranteed Anaheim’s debt promising to pay the investors if the city could not.
But since this parking garage–which the City of Anaheim is paying for with tax dollars–is on Disney property and is being used by Disney, the argument is being made by five Cast Members, and the labor union chapter Unite Here Local 11 that the parking garage is a subsidy.
Disney and the City of Anaheim both argue that the parking garage does not fall under the definition of a subsidy. But, the lawsuit was still filed with the superior court in Santa Ana. The plaintiffs argue the parking garage is a subsidy, and because of that, Disney has violated 2018 “Measure L.”
“What’s Measure L?”
Measure L set requirements for how hospitality companies must pay their employees. According to the LA Times:
“Measure L, which was approved by voters in November 2018, requires hospitality businesses that accept a city subsidy to pay a minimum of $15 an hour, starting Jan. 1, 2019, with salaries rising $1 an hour every Jan. 1 until 2022. Once the wages reach $18 an hour, annual raises would then be tied to the cost of living.”
If the court finds the parking garage to be a subsidy, the more than 400 current and former Disneyland Resort Cast Members could be a party to–could join–this lawsuit.
Wait. So, how much is Disneyland paying its Cast Members?
Disneyland representatives confirmed that all non-tipped Cast Members earn a minimum of $15 an hour with the ability to make overtime pay as well.
Still, the definition of a living wage has been a topic of debate. Market-set pay rates for low-education and low-skill jobs are unfortunately faced with the excruciatingly high cost of living in overtaxed, overregulated, and overpopulated areas such as Southern California.
The Yearlong Labor Dispute
2019 is wrapping up an entire year of disputes between disgruntled Cast Members and The Walt Disney Company. Those cast-members in the low-education, low-skilled positions were enraged when they discovered Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger would take home a $66 Million pay package. Even Disney heiress Abigail Disney has spoken out demanding Disney invest in the bottom rung.
Disney wants its Cast Members to Climb the Corporate Ladder
But it’s still clear The Walt Disney Company does not want its Cast Members stuck on that bottom $15/hr floor (which is already double the Federal minimum). The company wants to give its Cast Members the tools to better themselves and earn better jobs that require more skill and more education. It has invested $150 Million into its new education program, Disney Aspire. In Marty Sklar‘s book, One Little Spark, almost every Imagineer’s testimonial began with a story of how they started their journey with a job in the parks. In the long run, that park experience and empathy are priceless to Disney, but more must be added.
A Disney spokesperson was quoted saying:
“Disney is at the forefront of providing workforce education, which is widely recognized as the best way to create economic opportunity for employees and empower upward mobility. The Disney Aspire initiative is the most comprehensive employee education program in the country, covering 100 percent of all tuition costs, books and fees so our hourly workers can pursue higher education free of charge, and graduate free of debt.”
The current Vice President of Walt Disney World started off as a busboy at The Contemporary. If they continue to invest in Disney Aspire, it’s not a matter of when the next Cast Member will step up as VP; it’s a matter of where; what job in what park?