David Koenig returns with an inside the berm look at what’s going on at Disneyland. Cast member concerns, park operations reorganization, the ridiculous thing cast members are supposed to call Star Wars Land and more.
Going into this fall, cast members were already quitting in significant numbers because they were sure Disneyland was going to overhaul its longtime attendance policy. In fact, one source in the Team Disney Anaheim office feared that if the company’s proposed changes went into effect, the resort could lose as many as 40% of its hourly workforce, due to walkouts and mandatory terminations. That’s thousands and thousands of workers.
But Disney is determined to do something to correct a toothless policy they consider to be spiraling out of control. Here’s how the current policy works:
For each attendance-related infraction, cast members accrue points. If they are absent (for a personal reason, illness or transportation problem), they get 3 points per day. If they are tardy, they get 1.5 points. They can also “continue call sick” for up to five consecutive days (they’re hit with 3 points for the first day and no points for the next four). “Call late” applies so long as you arrive before the end of your scheduled shift. You’re also allowed to call in a “personal” when you’re on Disney property (such as if you had to deal with family or transportation issues).
Based on their employment status, cast members are allotted a certain number of points over different lengths of time. Regular full-time cast members can accrue 12 points in a month or 36 points over 12 months before they will be disciplined, while casual regular only get 9 points over a month and 24 points over a year.
Once they hit the different limits, they will receive progressive discipline (starting with a verbal warning, then a written warning, suspension and ultimately termination).
Abuse of the system, however, is rampant. Some cast members view the points not as protections in the event of emergencies, but as excuses to intentionally miss part or all of their shifts, as if the points are vacation days they’re being encouraged to use up. Didn’t get as many days off as you wanted this Christmas? No problem! Take the week off! It’ll just cost you 3 points! Unfortunately, everyone else is left to deal with the fallout—shifts run short-staffed, other co-workers have to cover, managers have to over-schedule shifts to anticipate no-shows.
One manager likened the ineffective policy to the improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, where “the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.”
Consequently, this past spring, Disney Corporate demanded a change in the attendance policy for hourly cast members at all U.S. parks. Here’s what the company wanted:
- An hours-based system for unexcused time missed.
- Time tracked to the minute for unexcused time missed.
- Once you hit the maximum time missed, you can be terminated without the need for progressive discipline.
- Cast members have to supplement sick time for all time missed from work for it to be excused.
- No more “call sick continue.”
- Three “no call/no shows” or “no call lates” triggers a termination.
- Cast members must “call sick/late” at least two hours before their shift or receive a “no call/no show,” unless they have an acceptable reason.
- Unexcused hours are reset January 1.
- Cast members cannot be on Disney property when missing time from work.
Some cast members considered the proposal merciless and inflexible. “Many feel that our current system is pretty liberal,” admitted one employee. “And because of this, some cast members have taken advantage of this. But rather than punish them, the company is trying to punish all of us.”
“Most people like the system the way it is,” stated another cast member. “We got used to counting their points and don’t like the idea that admins could impose sanctions with less data to work with that use up all their points.”
Disney originally wanted the changes to go into effect this past August. And from the start, the company made them sound like a “done deal” to the point where numerous cast members quit or began looking for other jobs. One worker I spoke with said Disney was so sure of itself, he’d thought the changes already had gone into effect.
But Disney still needed the unions to sign off on it. In negotiations, they tried to argue that this was a change in company policy not related to their contracts. Yet, the old policy is part of each union’s contract and was part of negotiations during the creation of previous deals. To be safe, Disney would have needed the unions’ usual rubber stamp to proceed. The unions held. Disney was forced to postpone implementation until September, then to January 1, and last month quietly took the proposal off the table.
No one thinks Disney has given up permanently. Said one old-timer: “For those of us who have been around for many years, we figure they are just going to regroup and comeback with the same policy—or something stronger! If they would only offer better overtime pay (like triple time) especially during holidays, they wouldn’t have to worry about holiday call-ins.”
“Disney finally gave up… for now,” added a co-worker. “While we won, we are waiting for when the contracts for each union come up for negotiation. None of the contracts end at the same time. We are expecting the company to bring up the changes again.”
We’ll see who blinks first.
When management oversight for Disneyland was first organized in 1955 (and formally codified about February 1, 1956), personnel and facilities were grouped by department. A representative of the main business disciplines sat on the Park Operating Committee, and all workers and operations within that discipline were grouped under it, no matter where in the park they were located. Attractions reported to Operations, Merchandise and Foods to Participant Affairs, and so on.
At the time, this set-up made sense because all the food facilities, almost all of the shops, and several other operations (such as parking, security and even the sound department) were run by outside companies.
By the early 1970s, Disney had absorbed all but a handful of these previously leased operations. So, in early 1974 Disneyland moved to a geographic organizational chart, divided by Lands. All attractions, shops and restaurants within, say, Fantasyland or Adventureland/Frontierland would report to the same group of middle and upper managers.
Over the years, exactly who oversees what has been tweaked. But earlier this fall Disneyland really started to blur the borders of the Lands. Operations have been reorganized instead under clusters apparently based on proximity and other nebulous criteria.
“It’s no longer all that cut and dry,” said one cast member. “For example, the Big Thunder Railroad attraction will be under the jurisdiction of Fantasyland instead of Frontierland, while the Enchanted Chamber, a store inside the castle, will be under Frontierland. Anyway, we are now encouraged to call the lands ‘neighbors’ and the park as the ‘neighborhood.’ Who thinks up this kind of stuff?”
The changes, set to go into effect at the beginning of 2017, will affect only operations inside the park, she said. “The changes in redistribution were kept very low key. In fact, I did not hear any formal announcement. Any news of it was rolled out during individual roll calls. The changes not only involved attractions, but stores and restaurants, too. The changes were for operational aspects. The guests would have no idea of it.”
Trains Running Late
Sources in the Roundhouse say the steam trains will not be running until August 2017. Team Disney Anaheim had hoped to have the locomotives back on track before the summer started. However, they’ve encountered unspecified problems with the set up of the new track and the ride control system.
The Land That Shall Not Be Named
At a recent Minnie’s Rollcall, cast members were informed that in conversations with guests, they should not to refer to Star Wars Land as “Star Wars Land.” It should instead be referred to as the “Frontierland Construction Project.”
Well, I guess that’s better than the “Neighborhood Jobsite.”
MiceChat readers, thank you for the warm welcome, and I look forward to writing for you in the New Year, and meeting as many of you as possible at the upcoming MiceChat anniversary bash.
Learn more about the Disney parks you love in David Koenig’s top selling books: DAVID KOENIG ON AMAZON