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‘They Don’t Have to Decide Whether to Eat or Get Gas,’ Disney World Cast Members Respond to Low Wages in Wake of Company Success

The Walt Disney World Resort employs thousands of Cast Members responsible for creating the magic across its four theme parks, but is it paying them their fair share of the profits?

Despite seeing a recorded 36% increase in revenue, and doubling last year’s profits as conditions improve post-pandemic lockdown, Disney has not been able to reach an agreement with its Cast Members, who have been protesting low wages since last August. Specifically The Walt Disney Company’s most recent Q4 Earnings report cited revenue of $7.4 billion in total revenue, with $1.5 billion in operating income according to an article by CNN.

Disney Cast Member Protest Unsuccessful At Raising Wages • DisneyTips.com

Credit: DisneyTips

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Even so, Cast Members belonging to the Service Trades Council Union have claimed to be in a financial state-of-emergency due to the current $15/hr salary most Disney World Cast Members make. Despite this being higher than Florida’s minimum wage standard, members of the six unions represented by the STCU posit it is not enough to survive in the current climate.

For instance, Jonathan Pulliam, a Character Performer working in the Entertainment Department since 2018, says his weekly salary of $550/week isn’t enough to get by in the expensive Orlando area, whose tourist economy has driven rent prices up to around $1,800 per month for a standard apartment. Pulliam told CNN, “Me loving it, that’s not enough to pay the bills… I’m filling my car three times a week, I would love to ask these execs if they could get by on $1 an hour more. It’s disheartening. They don’t have to decide [whether]… to eat or get gas.”

Disneyland Resort

Credit: Disney

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Pulliam adds that he was not able to live with his sister an hour out from Walt Disney World, he would have to sleep in his car, like many other Cast Members he knows “because they can’t afford to pay rent.” In fact, author Andrew Ross shared similar horror stories in the book Sunbelt Blues: The Failure of American Housing.

As a result, Cast Members have been in negotiations with Disney since last August, with their previous contracts ending in October. Despite a retroactive pay increase for most full-time Cast Members of around $700, unions are rejecting this so-called “very strong offer’s” guaranteed raises.

First, Disney offered a raise of $1/hr with yearly increases to get Cast Members to their desired wage in about five years, which unions rejected. Specifically, union leaders are upset that the deal would exponentially increase wages immediately, but often only for positions which are in high demand because there’s a rapid turnover, such housekeeping, transportation, and culinary staff.

Cast Member

Credit: Disney

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As stated by the STCU, union contracted workers desire an immediate 20% raise for all, increasing current salaries by $3/hr today, with $1/hr raises each consecutive year. Accordingly, STCU President Matt Hollis told CNN:

The unions have been clear from our very first bargaining session that a dollar in the first year is not enough. A dollar does not afford Disney workers with the ability to keep up with the skyrocketing rent increases. And a dollar does not afford Disney workers with the ability to continue to purchase basic necessities, such as food, gas and utilities. While Disney insists at the bargaining table that this is the best offer, we know Disney can do better, and Disney knows they must do better.

As a matter of fact, Disney union members will take this new contract offer to a vote at the end of the week, with a press release on the STCU Twitter predicting that many of the around 32,000 to 45,000 members will vote no in the hopes of convincing the media and theme park giant into a more satisfying deal.

About Spencer Johnette

Spencer is a lifelong lover of theme parks, princesses, and Disney history that recently relocated to Northern California. She completed her undergraduate studies at UCLA, where she was the founder and first president of the campus Disney Club. A former Cast Member still mourning the loss of the Disney Store, she now haunts the Walt Disney Family Museum halls and shares her opinions with anyone who will listen @gothelsflower.