The low pay for many Disneyland Cast Members along with the high cost of living near Anaheim, California has been causing housing and food insecurities for a number of years, and now the majority of Cast Members are joining a class action lawsuit against the resort in hopes of gaining a living wage.
The 25,000 (of Disneyland’s total 32,000) Cast Members involved in the suit allege that the company is legally obligated to pay them a living wage, and the ability to “live” hours away from their place of employment on top of food insecurities and the inability to consider having children does not quite constitute living.
Unions and Cast Members began to feel added pressure on wages when Disneyland changed the way certain roles are paid. For instance, some tipped positions like valet attendants recently had their roles modified so that they would no longer be handling luggage. But handling luggage is the way that many valet Cast Members make enough money to live on where their role is otherwise paid minimum wage or close to it.
Because of their low pay, some Disneyland Cast Members are experiencing food insecurities, while others are having to put off having children and buying a home. Some are even opting to sleep in their cars, because while affordable housing projects have helped some Cast Members make it work, others have not been able to find a solution close enough to work to justify the drive and the job.
Many Cast Members also believe that leaving their positions, despite the fact they many do not want to as they are there because they love what they do for work, will not help. While the COVID-19 crisis may present a different picture, Disneyland has not historically had a difficult time filling frontline hospitality roles, so many fear if they were to leave the positions would simply be filled by those willing to accept the low pay and the problem would never be resolved.
A 2018 study conducted by Occidental College and the Economic Roundtable reported that 11% of Disneyland Cast Members have experienced homelessness, while 68% felt food insecurities and 73% stated that they do not earn enough to cover their basic living expenses.
Some Cast Members have taken on second jobs to offset their Disneyland pay, but many find it difficult to do so given their requirement to have full availability at Disneyland. Even part timers have a hard time working a second job because of the varying shifts they get scheduled in the park. Some have turned to rideshare jobs and delivery services that are easier to work on their own time.
The cost of housing has gone up throughout Orange County as well, and many Cast Members believe rents are raised whenever possible because landlords understand the benefits of living close to the park and assume people will do what they can to be able to pay them.
The suit is also pointing to tax subsidies that the Walt Disney Company gets for the Anaheim property, claiming that those are extra dollars available that could be put towards giving the people who make the magic at the resort a living wage. Additional complications have been noted with revenue from the Mickey and Friends parking structure, which is a garage the City of Anaheim has ownership of though it is located on Disney property. “Measure L” as the involved Cast Members and union leaders are referring to this point in the suit, asks that the company increase wages to at least $18/hour plus any adequate increases to match the cost of living by 2022.
Currently Disneyland starts Cast Members at $15/hour, one dollar over the $14 minimum wage required by the state of California. There are plenty of perks and benefits to being a Disneyland Cast Member, too, but at the end of the day perks cannot compete with a living wage. As far as benefits, Cast Members do have access to public transportation cost subsidies, childcare, elder care, added paid sick time during COVID, and free access to educational programs (from GED courses to Master’s programs) all entirely covered up-front by the company.
Ultimately, Cast Members choose to work at Disneyland despite the low wages, because they want to be there. They enjoy creating happiness for Guests from all over the world and they truly have a passion for what they do- They would just like to be paid accordingly for it.
We will share updates on this lawsuit as they are available.