‘Cast Members Are the Magic’ — A Plea for Walt Disney World to Practice What They Preach

Tom Corless

By now, you’re likely well aware of the ongoing negotiations (and at times lack thereof) between Walt Disney World and the Service Trades Council Union, which represents more than 45,000 Cast Members. Even after Universal Orlando Resort announced an increase of their base pay to $17 per hour with additional raises coming to current Team Members, Disney remains in a bitter battle with the union as current base pay continues to sit at $15 per hour.

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Negotiations over the contract, which expired in October but has remained in force during negotiation, focused primarily on wages, healthcare, and retirement, where Disney offered a pay rise of $1 as their “best offer” to Cast Members with plans to raise wages a further $1 per year annually until reaching $20. STCU is asking for $18 per hour now, and a plan to eventually raise this to $20 per hour. Cast Members asking for a larger, more immediate raise also cite financial distress that won’t be solved by long-term incremental increases. Early this month, 96% of 14,263 ballots cast by Cast Members voted to reject Disney’s “best and final offer,” leading the union and Disney back to the negotiating table.

Service Trades Council Union leaders cancelled Thursday’s planned negotiations with Walt Disney World following their refusal to add “even one cent” to their previous wage proposal and removal of proposed retroactive pay for many Cast Members, which was once again presented then. This brings us to the stalemate that remains today.

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We are not so far removed from the jubilation from Bob Chapek’s removal as CEO of The Walt Disney Company. I vividly recall the joy and happiness, but most importantly the widespread optimism of many Cast Members in The Walt Disney Company at that moment in time. It certainly felt like the dark days were behind us, and a new age of appreciation for storytelling, quality, the guest experience, and, most importantly, the Cast was on the horizon. While there have certainly been a number of positive changes in the short time since Bob Iger returned, we now have arrived at an uncomfortable moment in this tale.

Post-COVID, I can not think of a media event, presentation, social media appearance, or interview where executives such as Iger, Josh D’Amaro, and Jeff Vahle have not taken time to celebrate their Cast Members. They never seem to miss an opportunity to remind employees of what they mean to the company, or at least an opportunity to just say that for appearances. The ongoing negotiations between Walt Disney World and the Service Trades Council Union show a great disparity between what is said and what is actually important to Disney.

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In an age where so much of the Disney Parks are still woefully understaffed, why would you go seemingly out of your way to not entice people to work for your company? Why would you demoralize your existing staff with a very public and well-documented wage dispute in front of the world? You told us that your Cast Members are the most important part of your magic, how are they not worth a few extra dollars when they work in the most profitable arm of your most profitable division?

What Disney seems to not realize is the less you make your Cast Members care, the less enjoyable the experience is going to be for guests. It’s all connected. If a Cast Member doesn’t feel valued at their job, they are, in most cases, going to try not as hard at it. What astonishes me, and what I am most grateful for, is that there are so many Cast Members, who despite this continual disrespect from their management, show up every single day with a smile on and make the most incredible memories and moments for guests like me. Even though the people they make so much money for mistreat them, and so publicly in this case, they still are there believing in what Walt Disney and his dedicated creative teams gave the world and fighting for its survival.

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I, like these Cast Members, want to believe it is not too late to save the soul of The Walt Disney Company, but if this dispute is going to continue down its current route, then maybe the Disney brand we fell in love with is already dead. We want to believe that someone, anyone with any power in Disney will do what is right and stand up for the Cast Members and allow the union and Walt Disney World to reach a reasonable agreement that helps lift these magic makers above the poverty line. This is not a big ask, this is simply requesting a living wage for your employees and nothing more.

Walt Disney World, it’s time to practice what you preach. It’s time to stop your public relations department from trying to bury this story, to stop trying to smother us with feel-good Cast Member tales on the Disney Parks Blog, to stop with the merchandise discounts as a settlement when your people can’t even afford to put food on their table. Do what’s right for your Cast Members, and in turn what is right for your guests and the future of Disney. Invest in that future instead of fighting for a few dollars before you lose what magic is left.

You can hear more of our thoughts on this issue in the above YouTube video.

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  • Tom Corless

    Tom has been regularly visiting the Walt Disney World® Resort from the time he was 4 months old. While he has made countless visits in the last 28 years, he did not become a truly active member in the Disney fan community until the summer of 2007, when he decided to launch the WDW News Today website and podcast. Tom has since become an Orlando-local and is a published author on Walt Disney World. Contact Tom at tom@wdwnt.com.