Disneyland Faces Suit From 25K Employees Over Pay

Legal argument is tied to whether the city is subsidizing the company
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 20, 2021 6:50 PM CDT
Disneyland Faces Suit From 25K Employees Over Pay
Disneyland employees stand socially distanced during a meeting in Anaheim, California, in April.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

More than 25,000 Disneyland employees, many of whom say they can't get by on what they're paid, have joined a class-action lawsuit seeking a living wage. According to a 2018 study, 11% of Disneyland employees said they had experienced homelessness in the past two years, 68% said they experienced food insecurity, and 73% said they do not make enough to cover basic living expenses. Many sleep in cars or make two-hour drives to work, the New York Times found at the time. The situation hasn't improved since then, with a pandemic and the unceasing increase in the cost of housing in California. "Unfortunately, those conditions still exist, if not more this year than they did in 2018," a union official told SFGate.

Gabriel Sarracino, who signed onto the suit, has been a valet at the Disneyland Hotel for 15 years and has been paid minimum wage the whole time. He likes the job. "I love just seeing people come in, and seeing their faces, and the kids coming out of cars," he said. "I've interacted with 100,000 people and had conversations with every one of them." But there's tension, too. "We feel like there's always somebody else that will fill our spot," he said, "and we're just there." Disney has laid off more than 30,000 people during the pandemic. And the company recently decided valets won't handle luggage anymore, which cuts into the tips he counted on.

The legal fight involves whether the company is subject to a 2018 Anaheim ballot measure that requires companies collecting city subsidies to increase workers' pay to $18 per hour by next year, then provide cost-of-living increases. The suit maintains that a Disneyland parking garage is, in effect, being paid for by taxes that come from Disney. The garage revenue goes to the company, which will own it when it's paid off, per the Los Angeles Times. The city and company say it's not a subsidy. "I think the issues here are simple: The voters demanded that companies like Disney, who take public handouts, pay their workers a living wage," a lawyer for the employees said.

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The company points to progress, starting with an agreement to start new hires, union and nonunion, at $15 an hour. When Disneyland shut down because of the pandemic last year, workers were still paid for the first month. All employees, including those who haven't come back to their jobs, are eligible for health insurance now. The company also provides perks including help with public transportation, child and elder care, and education. Disney deserves credit for the improvements, another union official said. But there remain scores of employees, including those under subcontractors, "who are still at minimum wage, including thousands of tip workers," he said. The workers' lawyer expects a jury trial to begin before next summer, per VoiceofOC. (More Disneyland stories.)

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