Does Disney World Have a Pay Gap Problem? Female, Immigrant Cast Members Say Yes

Walt Disney World Resort: A rare peek at how the shows are made
Credit: Disney

Union Cast Members from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 631 claim that Walt Disney World pays workers in the costuming departments less due to factors such as race and gender, creating an unfair pay gap.

While most Disney fans are familiar with the unique kind of magic experienced only at a Disney Park such as the Walt Disney World Resort, how many Guests think about the hours upon hours of labor that go into every attraction, every character costume, every set piece? Unfortunately, the dark truth seems to be that there is a major pay gap between male and female Cast members, specifically in the theatrical division.

Behind the Scenes of the Disneyland Paris Costuming Department | Disney  Parks Blog

Credit: Disney Parks Blog

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In fact, the 631 Union, which represents Disney World entertainment craftspeople, notes that between its Cast Member roles such as costumers, cosmetologists, and stage technicians, Disney happens to offer lower salaries for jobs historically considered more feminine pursuits. For example, the union has presented internal Company records which confirm a gendered pay gap between labor classifications for traditionally feminized jobs versus traditionally masculinized ones.


Within the Walt Disney World structure, several hundred garment workers, many of whom are older female immigrants from Vietnam, Latin America, and the Caribbean, make up twelve sewing classifications, such as construction, operations, dressers, and assistants. Moreover, many of the positions, such as stitchers and level two sewing operation specialists, require three-hour exams to test ability or have over a dozen skill requirements, like the capability to use 17 different types of industrial sewing machinery.

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And yet, of these roles make at most $20.55 per hour compared to 80% male-centric stagehands, whose lowest rates range from $16.65 and $24.25, with the highest salaries reaching $21.91 to $31.07 per hour. In addition, many in these female-dominated positions have limited English language skills with which to comprehend the pay gap occurring, let alone protest against it when first agreeing to the job parameters.

As a result, IATSE Local 631 president Paul Cox calls this “a mass under compensation of skill and ability because the classification has been historically female,” which “should be appropriately compensated” so as not to “take advantage” of these employees. Union leaders, many of whom have already joined the STCU’s protests for a living Cast Member wage, are now demanding fair compensation regardless of gender based on skill and dedication.

local 631 cast members protest pay gap

Credit: Truthout

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Indeed, in divisions overwhelmingly composed of Cast Members who identify as women, employees make a minimum of $15 to $15.40 per hour. While it seems unlikely Disney is intentionally deciding to underpay women, the fact remains that the salaries for roles that are held, by and large, by a female majority are far less than men in the lowest positions requiring the same level of skill, with some promotions for many of these female-dominated roles not even receiving any raise at all.

Costuming Cast Member Cindy Hsu quoted Walt Disney in an interview with Truthout: “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality,” bringing up the vitality of these workers to the Disney Parks most intrinsic magic. Then she paused and added: “I really feel like Walt would cry knowing that his Cast Members are suffering.”

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.