Even as the Disneyland Resort scrambles to hire and train the last of the thousands of new workers needed to handle the crush of summer visitors looking for a first peek at Cars Land, current cast members are considering heading out the door in reaction to changes aimed at dealing with the congestion.
The biggest bone of contention, first alluded to at a series of mandatory cast member briefings last month, is on extra-busy days this summer allowing guests to park in the cast member parking lots and forcing employees to park literally miles off site, as far away as Anaheim Stadium and the Honda Center.
Cast members, suspecting the change will add up to an hour of unpaid travel time to their commute, reportedly have resigned by the dozens (which Disney HR disputes), beseeched their managers and union reps to step in, or merely resigned themselves to grumbling. Personally, I’ve been listening to claims of worsening employee morale for decades. And, granted, in my line of work, I hear from a lot more squeaky wheels than happy campers, but the new off-site parking plan appears to have miffed even the most dedicated Disneylanders.
As one habitually positive cast member opined, “If you are able to get a hold of the Team Talk memo regarding cast parking on June 17 and 24, its wording will tell you why many cast members are outright offended. I love working for Disneyland, but there comes a point…”
The memo he’s referring to—a three-page supplement to the “Disneyland Today” daily tip sheet distributed Saturday June 2—officially announced the parking plan in less-than-sympathetic terms. “On select dates this summer, we anticipate that the Disneyland Resort will be an exceptionally popular destination,” the memo outlined. “To ensure the best experience possible for Guests on peak attendance days, Katella Cast Member Lot (KCML) and Ball Cast Member Lot (BCML) will be used for Guest parking on June 17 and 24. Alternate parking locations will be made available on these dates for Cast who have a permit to park in KCML or BCML, based on their role and shift start time. Cast should use this information to plan their commutes for both days in advance. As a reminder, driving to work and parking in a Cast lot is not expected or required and is just one commuting option available to Cast.”
Alternate parking locations listed were KCML, Gardenwalk, Anaheim Stadium, and Honda Center. Rumor has it that the first two, closest lots may be reserved for salaried cast members only. “We will be assigned a parking lot by our role and shift,” said one employee.
Among the FAQs:
Q: Why do Guests get to park in these locations instead of Cast Members?
A: We are planning to use KCML and BCML to ensure the best experience possible for arriving Guests by providing them with the closest possible parking to the Resort.
Q: What dates will KCML and BCML be used for Guest parking this summer?
A: We are planning to use KCML and BCML for Guest parking on June 17 and 24. There is a possibility that KCML may be used at later dates, which will be communicated in advance.
Q: Is there a chance KCML and BCML will be used for Guest parking in the future?
A: We plan to use KCML and BCML for Guest parking on select peak attendance days only.
Q: Will I get paid more if I park in these alternate locations?
A: No, driving to work and parking in a Cast lot is not expected or required, and is just one option available to our Cast. Please contact Disney Commuter Assistance at 8232-RIDE for more information.
Cast members are supposed to receive further details on June 8. Salaried leaders, along with cast who volunteer for cross-utilization shifts, will get information specifically for them on the same date. The cast member shuttles will continue to run until all vehicles in the lots are gone. Employees who park in Simba Lot (for the hotels) will not be affected.
“Notice,” pointed out one cast member, “how we can be kicked out of KCML any time the resort will have predicted peak attendance days. We got July 4th coming up, then Thanksgiving, and Christmas. And the line, ‘driving to work and parking in a Cast lot is not expected or required and is just one commuting option available to Cast’ is repeated four times. This just shows how ‘valued’ cast members are to the operation of the resort.” (His comment was a thinly veiled swipe at the recorded pronouncements by Disney executives at the recent cast member meetings stressing, over and over, how much they valued the employees and recognized the resort could not function without them. “The lack of applause was deafening,” he recalled.)
Several other changes are also causing their fair share of discontent. First, employees will not be allowed to sign family members into either park this summer. This month, they’ll continue to receive their seasonal allotment of a couple of free tickets for dependents, but that’s it. In addition, to help make up for the labor shortfall, cast members in some departments are being forced to work a mandatory six days a week.
And, the last two employee locker rooms at Disneyland—located above Cash Control in the building that incorporates the railroad’s Primeval World tunnel—are slated to be converted into offices, as were all the other locker rooms before them. Years ago, all uniformed employees were forced to use the locker rooms because Disneyland didn’t allow its costumes to leave the premises. But since the advent of FastTrack, most employees are now taking their costumes home with them. The holdouts, who still prefer to change at work and not walk out onto Harbor Boulevard in their Haunted Mansion butler outfit, may now be left without that option.
Behind the scenes, employees in several departments are discussing the possibility of a massive sick-out to protest the off-site parking and other changes. The last time a large group of cast members organized a successful sick-out came during a late December day that saw interminable lines at every open facility. (It’s a Small World, for instance, was forced to operate with just one line, which reportedly snaked back to Nemo’s Submarine Voyage and peaked at a wait of four hours.)
Yet cast members are rightly nervous, explaining that the last time management caught wind of the possibility of a sick-out, they threatened written disciplinary action against any cast member who called in sick—even if they really were sick.
The two announced dates for off-site parking coincide with the first opportunities for most levels of Annual Passholders to visit Cars Land. Unfortunately, they also coincide with 12:35 p.m. Angels baseball games, ruling out Anaheim Stadium except for its distant “Amtrak lots” and forcing most employees to park even farther away, at the Honda Center, and possibly deal with the baseball game traffic on Katella and surrounding streets. Cast members expect the hassles to result in a lot of late clock-ins, which they consider unlikely to be waived.
To ease the pain, Disney has been urging cast members to consider alternate means of transportation. Cast members who enroll in the resort’s commuter assistance program are entered into a weekly drawing to win an iPad or $1,000.
And, says media relations director Suzi Brown, “On those two days to all cast members, not just those who will be parking remotely, we are offering free meal vouchers. We know it’s going to be busy and we’re excited about it and happy to tackle it.”
Brown could not share any long-term plans to resolve the parking crunch, but does not expect the remote parking plan to become a frequent option. The resort will have a clearer picture “once we work through June.” She says Disney has borrowed spaces from the Anaheim Convention Center in the past and that remains a closer possibility for the future.
The resort has also gone on the offensive to try to prune the ranks of Annual Passholders, which have swelled to 1 million since the resort began allowing guests to pay for APs in monthly installments. The first move to purge APers and return crowds to more manageable levels came two weeks ago, when Disneyland announced the steepest admission price hike in the history of the resort. (Increases ranged from tacking $7 on to the price of a one-day ticket to $150 more for the top-tier annual pass—a 30% jump.)
Bottom line: I know it’s going to get uncomfortably cramped inside the parks this summer, but cut those cast members a little slack. You may be parking in their spot.
(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.