Some Disneyland staff say they struggle with homelessness and food insecurity

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For many Disneyland employees, a hard day’s work doesn’t pay them enough to keep a roof over their heads or to put food on the table, according to the results of a new survey.

Nearly three quarters of both full- and part-time employees (73%) reported that they didn’t make enough money from their job at Disneyland Resort DIS, +0.41%  to pay for basic expenses each month, according to a survey conducted on behalf of a group of unions by Occidental College and the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research organization based in Los Angeles that advocates for raising the minimum wage.

More than 17,000 Disneyland employees who are union members were invited to take the survey out of roughly 30,000 workers across the resort. The survey’s findings were based on the responses from around 5,000 employees, including both full- and part-time workers.

“The Walt Disney Company promotes Disneyland Resort as the ‘happiest place on earth,’ but for many of the approximately 30,000 people who work there, it is not the happiest place to work,” researchers wrote.

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Roughly one-tenth of Disneyland workers reported being homeless in the past two years, meaning they didn’t have a place of their own to sleep, while 56% reported concerns of being evicted from their current residence. Disneyland’s staff was also more likely than other Californians to have moved in the past two years or to live in an apartment or house that’s overcrowded.

Disneyland employees also described difficulty getting enough to eat. Researchers found that 68% of the workers surveyed were “food insecure,” meaning they lacked sufficient access to safe and nutritious food. More than half of those surveyed said they ate smaller meals or skipped meals because of a lack of money, and one in seven employees said they relied on benefits such as food stamps or food from food banks or donation programs.

These were not the only expenses Disneyland employees expressed difficulty handling — the survey found that some struggled to pay for transportation and medical care as well.

Part of the problem could be that Disneyland’s salaries have not kept pace with the rising costs of living. The study found that the average hourly wage for Disneyland workers had dropped in value by 15% since the year 2000 when accounting for inflation. More than half of the employees overall and more than 80% of part-time employees reported earning less than $12 an hour.

Disney is meeting the industry norms

Lisa Haines, a spokeswoman for the Disneyland Resort, described the survey as “inaccurate” and “unscientific,” noting that it was paid for by labor unions that are politically motivated. “Its results are deliberately distorted and do not reflect how the overwhelming majority of our 30,000 cast members feel about the company” Haines said. “While we recognize that socio-economic challenges exist for many people living in Southern California, we take pride in our employment experience.”

The survey comes as the labor unions have proposed a ballot initiative that would raise the minimum wage in Anaheim, where Disneyland is located, to $18 an hour by 2022, according to the Orange County Register. The initiative, if passed, would then require companies to adjust their minimum salaries by 2% a year at least to adjust for a higher cost of living. Disney refers to its staff as “cast members.”

The average annual wage in 2017 for Disneyland’s hourly full-time employees, including those who receive tips and those who weren’t in a union, was roughly $37,000, the company said. Comparatively, the average annual wage for amusement park and arcade workers nationally was $30,750 as of May 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On an hourly basis, entry level roles at the Disneyland Resort come with starting rates ranging between $11 and $17.75 per hour, the company said. The average hourly wage for amusement park employees nationally is $14.78. California’s minimum wage was increased in 2018 to $10.50 an hour for companies with more than 26 employees.

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Disney’s theme park workers are also compensated beyond their salary. In January, the company announced a $50 million education program for hourly employees including those at Disneyland Resort. Disney also said it would give a one-time $1,000 bonus to 125,000 employees following the GOP tax law’s passage — though labor unions allege that the company was withholding the bonus from some workers amid ongoing contract negotiations.

Despite the low wages, those who work at the House of Mouse’s original theme park reveled in the work they did, per the labor unions’ latest study. A 79% majority said they were “proud of the work [they] do at the Disneyland Resort.”

And only roughly a third of workers said they were treated unfairly or without respect on the job. Three quarters of newer employees, in fact, said they felt respected.

Nevertheless, when asked whether they felt fairly compensated in wages and benefits, 83% of Disneyland Resort workers responded in the negative.