Having been in the interview business for nigh onto 60 years, it has come to my attention that the 3-word answer “I don’t know” is often the signature of a wise and honest person.
How typical, how telling, that this very answer, “I don’t know,” is officially forbidden to actors dressed as Disney characters at Disneyland, Disney World and the whole dizzying array of Disney owned resorts.
The Cast-members’ Guide says what you do next is exactly what any normal human being would do after saying, “Sorry, but I don’t know the answer. But I think we can find it.” The next thing to do, say The Guide, is call another cast member or HQ and get the answer as quickly as possible for the waiting customer.
But none of this “I don’t know” business. We’re Disney. We know. Mickey. Minnie. Donald and Daisy, they are perfect, immaculate, and absolutely wholly-owned, so of course they know.
Imagine trying to negotiate a labor agreement with people whose first rule is never say you do not know — anything.
Through 7 months of negotiations, Disney has stuck with its one offer…a raise from its base wage of $10 an hour, in 2 jumps of 50 cents an hour over the next 2 years and a $200 signing bonus… even after union workers turned it down by a 93 to 7% margin. The union is asking to be made part of a national movement to set the minimum wage floor of $15 an hour, moving up to $18 over the next 3 years. There are no reports of serious negotiations about this.
So now, there’s this bonus…$1000 for every full and part-time Disney cast-member … their share in the windfall Disney is getting from President Trump’s so-called “tax reform.” That’s how CEO Robert Iger pitched it.
Only now, the 38,000 workers whose contract is being (not) negotiated, are not getting the bonus the way 80,000 other Disney employees are…in Scrooge-like installments of $250 each … and, according to the latest Disney edict, of the workers don’t sign a new contract by August 31, the bonus is taken away.
The bonus sounded like a free gift when Iger announced it, but now his spokeswoman Andrea Finger says, “Wages and bonuses are part of our negotiation process.”
Speaking of bonuses: Since estimates of the total value of Disney’s tax windfall range from $1.6 to $2 billion, the whole $125 million in corporate-wide employee bonuses amounts to between 6.3 and 7.8% share of the total tax break.
Speaking of wages: Just this March, a Federal Court ordered Disney to pay employees at its Florida resorts an extra $3.8 million – payback for money Disney had withheld from paychecks to cover the costs of on-the-job costumes and uniforms
If I understand the ruling correctly, what cost Disney the decision wasn’t its egregious penny-pinching enforced on some of its most poorly-paid employees. Greed, even egregious greed isn’t illegal, but the reason Disney got docked the close-to $4 million was, after it had deducted for those Mermaid, Princess and Aladdin suits, it was paying those employees well under the $7.25 an hour Federal Minimum wage, and that is against the law.
There’s another add bit of lore from the Disney cast-member handbook. When pointing a customer in a particular direction, not one, but two fingers must be extended. The legend is, this was Walt Disney’s show-off gesture, two-fingers extended with a cigarette burning in between.
I’ll bet he saved his one-finger salute, the cigarette cast angrily aside, for his unions. Settling an animators’ strike at his studio in 1941 is something Uncle Walt apparently complained about to the end of his days.
Michael Sainato’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Huffington Post, LiveScience, Buffalo News, the Plain Dealer, the Hill, Gainesville Sun, Tallahassee Democrat, Knoxville News Sentinel, and the Troy Record. He lives in Gainesville, FL.