Disney workers fighting to make dreams come true
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN and JOSEPH GEEVARGHESE, Contributing Columnist
This summer, millions of parents and their kids will stroll down Disneyland’s Main Street, USA to experience a “magical place” where brochures promise “dreams really do come true.”
But for many Disneyland workers who labor to create such wonderful vacations, their own dreams remain far out of reach.
A recent survey found that a majority of Disneyland workers — like the people who help Cinderella put on her gown, style her hair, and do her makeup — earn so little that they live in poverty.
Currently, more than 85 percent of Disneyland’s 30,000 workers make less than $15 an hour. As a result, three-quarters of Disneyland employees can’t afford necessities such as rent, food and gas. Nearly 10 percent of Disneyland workers have experienced homelessness.
For them, the “Happiest Place on Earth” isn’t so happy after all.
Recently, we had the opportunity hear from some of those workers during a recent town hall meeting in Anaheim, where U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders joined the discussion.
The stories were heartbreaking. Worker after worker spoke about what life was like after they clocked out of the Magic Kingdom. Rebekah Pederson, a hair stylist, spoke about having to live out of her car for months because she does not earn enough to afford to rent her own place. Veronica Chavez, a hotel housekeeper, spoke about skipping meals so her three kids had something to eat. Glyndanna Shelvin, a food-service worker, talked about her ongoing struggle to make ends meet despite working at Disneyland for more than 30 years.
Disney can afford to do better by its workers.
Overall revenues at Disneyland have skyrocketed over the past decade. Last year alone, Disney banked $9 billion in profits. And its CEO Bob Iger stands to pocket $400 over the next 4 years.
But while corporate wealth is up, real wages for Disney workers are steadily declining. Today, Disneyland workers make less than they did two decades ago.
The good news is that we the people, as taxpayers and as voters, have the power to take action to correct this economic inequity and help the human beings whose work makes Disneyland such a special place. That’s because Disneyland is profitable in part because the city of Anaheim has given it taxpayer-funded subsidies. In other words, our own money is being spent to help Disney create these low-wage jobs — and that means we have the power to change it.
That’s why we’re standing in solidarity with Disneyland workers who are organizing to pass a ballot initiative that requires companies that receive our hard-earned taxpayer dollars to pay their workers a living wage: a minimum of $18 an hour by 2022. In addition to lifting thousands of workers out of poverty, the ordinance will inject an estimated $400 million dollars into the Anaheim economy each year.
But winning the living-wage bill here won’t just help Anaheim, it will also help America by setting an example for federal policy-makers.
At the national level, taxpayer dollars fund almost 2 million poverty-wage jobs through contracts, loans and grants with private companies. That’s more low-wage jobs than created by Wal-Mart and McDonalds combined.
Sanders — along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and 16 colleagues — are demanding that our taxpayer dollars only go to “model employers” that pay living wages, provide decent benefits and respect the right to organize.
Federal action to leverage taxpayer dollars to create good jobs would be transformative. Nearly 20 million people would enjoy a better standard of living, and it would inject a stimulus of over $30 billion into the U.S. economy annually.
Our great opportunity this November is to send a message about American values to corporations throughout the nation — if you receive taxpayer dollars, you must create quality jobs for America’s workers.
By making dreams come true here, we can make them come true for workers everywhere.
Jennifer Beuthin is the general manager of the Orange County Employees Association. Joseph Geevarghese is a labor attorney and the executive director of Good Jobs Nation.
Publication Date: June 13, 2018