These days, Disneyland ride operators more likely find seniority a curse, rather than a blessing. Still, one of the few remaining advantages of longevity has been the opportunity to work a greater variety of attractions throughout the park, thereby lowering the boredom level and increasing the chance to make friends with co-workers from Land to Land.
That's why regular visitors may recognize today's Haunted Mansion butler as last week's Jungle Cruise skipper and their Monorail driver the week before.
Well, over the next few weeks, that's all about to end. By Labor Day, all Disneyland ride operators will be assigned to a geographic area, based on their preferences, and be allowed to work attractions only within that Land. For instance, if a cast member who preferenced Jungle Cruise also has experience on the Mark Twain and Columbia, he probably would be assigned Adventureland/Frontierland/Main Street as his Homeroom and no longer work the Rivers of America, which falls under Critter Country/New Orleans Square.
To make matters worse, once cast members go more than a year without working an attraction, they forfeit their job knowledge on that attraction. Many long-time cast members are losing job knowledge they have had for years, said one ride operator. I stand to lose four attractions; other cast members are losing more. The official management position seems to be, 'If those cast members don't like it, they should reevaluate their position here at the resort.' In other words, 'If you don't like it, quit!'
Cast members appear unconvinced by managers' promises that, Don't worry, you won't lose hours. And you're not losing knowledge. You just won't be compliant. Yet, by definition, they're left with fewer options.
One hostess elaborated: I'm getting put in Tomorrowland, but if we complain we don't have enough hours, they'll train us on Autopialucky usand if we give an excuse for not wanting Autopia, they'll say, 'Sorry, you're turning down hours.'
Many familiar faces will disappear from attractions like Jungle Cruise, which many veterans love to work once in a while, but find too strenuous and monotonous to work regularly.
Worst of all, many cast members misunderstand the reason for the change. It's like they're trying to turn Disneyland into junior high, with your Homeroom manager being responsible for you, said one cast member. They keep saying, 'Well, it will be okay. Now your managers will know you.' It's punishing cast members because the company insists on playing musical managers, shifting management every six months, so nobody knows who their managers are and most people don't care to find out. I don't know about you, but I like my managers to know as little as possible about me.
For some ride operators, the number of attractions they know is a status symbol. If you are trained on five attractions spread across Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, you are much cooler than the lowly CR (Casual Regular) who only knows two attractions in Fantasyland, admitted one veteran.
Another old-timer bemoaned: We don't have many perks anymore as Disneyland cast members. Many of us continue to work simply because as regular ride operators we have a family atmosphere going on. Now many of our family members are being taken away to a different family, many with no say in it at all.
He said that since newer employees are unaffected, old-timers will be the ones who quit over the loss of freedom and friends.
Interestingly, most of these disgruntled veterans probably started at Disneyland in the late 1990s. Gone are the days when an old-timer was someone who remembers seeing Walt walk the park in the mornings. Nowadays, with the high employee turnover, a grizzled veteran is anyone with a Five-Year-Pin. And what these 20-something-year-old vets may not realize is that land locking isn't a new policy; it's the way Disneyland operated for nearly 40 years.
For decades, ride operators were assigned to a certain Land and needed a formal, lasting transfer to work an attraction elsewhere. Consequently, hourlies were used to the system and knew the people they reported to. Likewise, management had an easier time of keeping track of cast members when it came to communication, updating training, and administrative duties such as performance appraisals and attendance disciplines.
This time-worn structure was abandoned in 1995 with the Empowerment Evolution, an ill-fated reorganization that used the Attractions Department as its guinea pig. Instead of the four departments that had existed for decades, attractions were regrouped into more than a dozen Small Business Teams or SBTs, and all of the front-line Leads were demoted back to regularyet empoweredcast members.
Each SBT consisted of just a handful of attractions that might be either geographically close or operationally similaryet on opposite ends of the park. Matterhorn/Monorail was one SBT, it's a small world/Toontown was one. Another SBT, Rivercraft, included the Rivers of America attractions, Haunted Mansion and Country Bear Jamboree.
To oversee all the mini-divisions, leads were replaced by a dizzying number of managers and assistant managers. The Pirates of the Caribbean/Splash Mountain SBT had one manager and five assistant managers. The Narrations SBT, made up of spieling attractions such as Jungle Cruise, CircleVision and Storybook Land, had one manager and a half-dozen assistant managers scurrying to all corners of the park.
Since each SBT contained so few attractions and encouraged cross-utilization, tenured cast members felt empowered to work all over the park. As a result, they found themselves reporting to multiple management teams, each responsible for their care and development.
Management recognized the mistake as early as 1999, when it began creating the labor structure for Disney's California Adventure. Since Opening Day in 2001, DCA operations have been divided into three separate teams, with minimal chance to transfer between them. The system has worked welljust as it had at Disneyland prior to 1995.
Gradually, over the past five years, Disneyland also has been trying to repair the damage wrought by the Empowerment Evolution. The SBTs have been molded back into the four basic Land groups.
General Leads returned a few years ago and are currently being reorganized into A Leads, who work an attraction five days a week; a secondary Lead, who works five nights a week, and the remaining Leads, who fill in the gaps.
A contributing factor to finally returning to Land locking has been update training mandated by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). Whenever a procedure is changed on an attraction, every cast member with job knowledge on that attraction must be updated on the change and sign off on it.
For trainers, it's quicker, easier and more cost effective to have a smaller, easier-to-track-down pool of trainees. (Not to mention, trainers make an extra 75 cents an hour.) In theory, reducing overtime and replacing absent workers also should be easier, since all possible replacements will already be in the vicinity.
I can understand how some cast members would view this new structure as limiting, but from a business and operational standpoint it makes sense, said one analyst. Basically it's the last step in fixing the mess that was created by Pressler and his gang in '95 when they got caught up in 1990s trendy corporate psycho-babble and axed the Leads, 'empowered' everyone, and split the decades-old departmental structure into a zillion tiny Small Business Teams.
In fact, the vast majority of Disneyland cast members were already in a specific Land team, they just might not have realized it. Currently, only about 8 percent of cast members have job knowledge of attractions in multiple business units. They will still have the opportunity to work diverse attractionsas long as they are in the same area. Cast members with the seniority to merit it will quickly be trained on new attractions in their new Land and lower seniority employees will be trained on new rides in their Land as their rising seniority naturally allows.
Understandably upset are those who used 1995's Empowerment Evolution to learn attractions all over the park and those who hired on four or five years ago and think the current way is the real way to do things.
Hopefully, management can implement the changes in a way that provides cast members with suitable freedom and variety. Lord knows, everyone will benefit from a smoother-running Disneyland.
(Send an email to David Koenig)
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999) (All titles published by Bonaventure Press).
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.