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Kevin Yee

Mouse in the House II

Goofys Kitchen buffet
Goofys Kitchen buffet

We have a number of updates to the evolving story of Mouse in the House, beginning with some reader mail and ending with an extensive and exclusive interview with Cynthia Hanel herself.

Before I start with the reader mail, I want to mention that we have tried to contact representatives from both Disney and Local 681, and are still waiting for responses.

Lisa wrote:

You bring up a lot of interesting points. The one thing that stands out in my mind is this: couldn't a vast majority of the problems listed be corrected by the appropriate and necessary daily cleaning that should be completed? I recall that when I worked at a fast food restaurant 18 years ago that we had lists of daily and more intensive weekly cleaning regimens of all the restaurant equipment that had to be completed and initialed. It seems to me that a great majority of the employees at Goofy's Kitchen were not completing their job tasks, and that the health complaints are a direct result of their own negligence (perhaps that's too strong of a word--maybe inattentiveness is better).

Lisa, I know just what you mean. My restaurants at Disneyland also had regular deep-cleaning evenings in fact, I've written a Cast Place column called "Turbo-Closes" on just this issue. I think, on the whole, you are right: cleaning would have prevented the problem. See the interview below for more on this subject.

Bob wrote:

After reading your article, I felt I must respond. I have been in several restaurant kitchens (both in the parks and out) and not seen anything quite as bad as those pictures. The exception would be the (what looks like) rust at the bottom of the refrigerator and the soda fountain. The constant water and the highly acidic fountain drinks cause a lot of damage. However, regardless of how unsightly these appear they are not of any health concern at all.

I have also seen the floor under the mats look pretty bad by the end of the shifts. These pictures were most likely taken at the worst possible time in between cleanings and often represent sloppiness of the employees, not maintenance. Although it would appear that maintenance in the areas doesn't happen as often as it should.

I work in a factory that manufactures skin care products and see that black type of mold grow around the sink area where it stays wet all the time. No one here ever has sinus problems. We have to periodically clean the walls with bleach and repaint. We spray Lysol on the walls on a daily basis to keep it at bay, but it is always there. The problem is the type of mold that may be present, how tight the area is, and how good the air flow is as to whether or not it may be a health problem.

The point is that as ugly as some of those photos are, they don't really tell the whole story as far as health concerns. But thank you for sharing them because it does prove that there may be something to the reports, and that they aren't just fabrications of someone's longing for the deep pockets of Disney.

Bob, you know more than most people about mold and the significance of ventilation. This, too, is apparently part of the problem at Goofy's Kitchen, and I refer you again to the interview below.

I do want to comment that from my own somewhat trained eye, the gunk gathered below those floor mats almost certainly represent much more than one day's worth of residue (and possibly as much as a month).

Gina H. wrote:

I read your article about Goofy's Kitchen. Has anyone bothered to check and see if any of the other people working there has been sick? I would think that if the conditions are as bad as they are told by this former worker then she wouldn't be the only one sick. I would think there would be more than four people ill.

Another question I had for you is that you mentioned that the soda machines were being cleaned by an employee as part of their daily basic work and it was found to be moldy and with worms. Wouldn't you think that it would be the employees not doing their work to begin with that caused this?

I've worked in restaurants for many years. I know Disney has people that clean up every night at the closing of the park and restaurants. I don't know how those mat pictures could be taken unless 1) it was taken somewhere else or 2) the pictures were taken after the day's end and before the cleaning people came in. I also don't understand the drain picture, is there something supposed to be in there that I don't see? Or is it also a picture that was taken after the day's end and before the cleaning crew came in?

I'm sorry to see these disgruntled employees had to lower themselves by taking pictures of things that may or may not be a part of Goofy's Kitchen. I would be interested to see if anyone does a follow-up and see if any of the other employees are sick. I would imagine there are countless hostesses, servers, bartenders, cooks, busboys, dishwashers, and managers that work there. Only four are sick? How long have they been working at Goofy's to develop this illness compared to the other workers and their tenure?

Gina, according to Cynthia Hanel, large numbers of people are sick with assorted of illnesses. I'll leave the details for the interview below, however. And you are right that one could blame the employees themselves for allowing the mold to grow so bad. There are two arguments against that: first, Hanel claims that cleaning chemicals were not made conveniently available, and second, that management is ultimately responsible for cleanliness. I know that as Lead of my restaurants I always verified that all stations were clean before closers could go home.

As for third-shift custodial that you reference, I can very easily think of a situation where the "mat man" doesn't clean mats for weeks or months on end. In New Orleans Square, for example, the restaurants people were responsible for picking up mats and bringing them downstairs not Custodial. Should we forget, the mats wouldn't get cleaned. One location I can think of did not have mats cleaned on a regular basis.

Stanley wrote:

So much for Disney's clean reputation.

"Plutos Worms and Dirt," a dessert offered at Goofys Kitchen
"Plutos Worms and Dirt," a dessert offered at Goofys Kitchen

I include your quote here, Stanley, because it sums up not only many people's opinion, but also because it represents in one compact sentence the enormity of the potential problem for Disney here.

The next few letters are from current and former Disney Cast Members (CM's), and thus anonymous.

I currently work at Hook's Pointe, but for a short time I did work at Goofy's Kitchen... and I have to tell you that pretty much all that is said about that place is true. But I can say that things are much better than the old Goofy's. There, I was a night porter in charge of cleaning the back areas of GK. One night I was assigned to clean under the soda fountain. Just like in the photo, there was stagnant water and mold everywhere. I cleaned the best I could, and later that week I developed severe bronchitis.

Now, I know how management works... and I can tell you that Goofy's now is totally independent, management wise, from all other outlets (Hook's, Lost Bar, Croc's, and Granville's are under one management team and are closely watched by upper management).

As a member of Hook's "team", I can truly say, when an issue is put forth, it is resolved! You do not see things like what are portrayed in the photos.

It is very interesting to hear your perspective on this. You claim to have also developed an illness and seem to ascribe its origins also to a moldy environment lending some credence, perhaps, to Hanel's claims.

It is encouraging to hear you say that Goofy's is now much cleaner and healthier than it once was.

And in that vein...

I am a former cast member of the engineering department at the Disneyland Hotel. I worked there from February 1994 to July 2002. I can say without a doubt that Disney has responded to the rodent and mold issues not only in Goofy's kitchen but property-wide. I personally implemented corrective actions to eliminate mold and any possible entry point for rodents in Goofy's Kitchen.

We did not just paint over mold -- we removed complete areas of wall from the concrete slab up four feet, eliminated the source of moisture and replaced steel framing and used moisture-resistant drywall. Complete drain systems, and soda dispensers were upgraded or replaced. We took extensive action to address these areas.

Also I would like to say that the hotel experienced in increase in rodent populations when the low-income housing directly behind the hotel was and still is under major renovation; basically the rodents fled to safer ground. There is always going to be pest control when you have a food source for them and I believe Disney has taken these issues seriously and I recently took my kids to Goofy' Kitchen to eat and I know it is a safe and clean place to eat.

I know Cindy Hanel personally but I can not support her on this one. The pictures you posted were corrected by my team, and immediately after they were brought to management's attention, those conditions no longer exist.

It's good to hear confirmation of the rodent origin multiple sources have told me that the construction of DCA and the resort's infrastructure, as well as demolition of older houses along Walnut Street (behind the hotel), contributed heavily toward rodent infestation at the Disneyland Hotel.

Goofys Kitchen drink menu
Goofys Kitchen drink menu

I am comforted to hear that Disney seems to have taken the issue very seriously and done more than just bandage appearances. As for the rodent problem, you are of course correct that any restaurant will have them.

But still is Disneyland up against something more? Let's see what the next CM has to say:

I am currently an attractions Cast Member on the world famous Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. Disney's rat problem goes back to the time when the snack bar on Tom Sawyer Island was opened. The rats loved getting in the leftover food.

After a while park management tried getting rid of the rats by placing cyanide-laced hotdogs around the Island; this was quickly stopped because of the fear that children would find these hot dog pieces and put them in their mouths. So feral cats were introduced as a new solution. The cats as well as the rats immigrated over to the mainland, which explains why we still see cats in dark corners of the park.

At first I though this was all an old wives' tale, but one day I was doing guest control at the island and stumbled across an old CM drawing in the stockade breakroom of a rat in a Tom Sawyer Island costume dated January 7, 1992. On Jungle Cruise I have gone on many a "Mickey Run" taking out an empty boat with another cast member and a net to scoop out one of Mickey's dearly departed cousins.

Also during night excursions many a skipper has shined a spotlight into the hippo pool or Baboon rock only to discover either A) a rat happily swimming in the water or B) a rat not so happily bobbing motionless in the water. In our back break area right next to the kitchen for the Main Street restaurants, the rafters at night resonate with the sounds of feet (scurry, scurry). I look up and see not one but two big rats above my head.

As to the issue of HERE local 681. I know that this union has been going through some internal difficulties and is currently engaged in a power struggle with its current president. According to a recent flier the president of HERE said the DL members were not intelligent enough to make their own decisions. And from what I understand, they are only out to serve their own selfish interests.

As the foods division continues to selectively terminate its cast members; the shop stewards for HERE have been telling CMs that they are on their own. Unlike the Teamsters' Union of the Attractions division, this organization refuses to fight for its members. I had a friend termed (terminated) after wrenching her back and being out on medical for two weeks. You tell me if HERE is having some conflict issues.

The rat stories you describe are chronicled in David Koenig's book Mouse Tales (the title of that book is a coincidence; he means "stories about Disneyland") but have since become part of Cast Member lore too. It is nevertheless helpful to hear your own stories of "Mickey Runs" and rat scurrying near the break area.

And you are quite right about cats: they are Disneyland's prime rodent-control device.

As for HERE Local 681, we have still not been able to obtain a comment from an official representative. The questions posed in our last article about the O.C. Weekly story, however, have been decisively cleared up: both Nick Schou and John Earl deny being friends with each other, or of having hidden agendas for that matter (Earl further comments that he disputes the union's view that he was fired).


But it's the question of Goofy's Kitchen that's on our minds: how much of this alleged mold and rats is provable fact? I asked Cynthia Hanel to respond to several of the emails, and the following is her response. Some of her comments that require an explanation are provided in [brackets]:

Kevin Yee (KY): Are there a lot of ill workers, or are you an isolated case?

Cynthia Hanel (CH): I have a list with 60 names on it of people who are sick or otherwise injured, and I've shown this list to the Union [Local 681]. Only six are on worker's comp. A lot of them are cases of people who have slipped and fallen from the water that builds up due to backed up [drainage pipes]. We're just tired of falling due to bad plumbing.

Half the girls in the [hotel] restaurants are on anti-depressants or can't sleep. There have been seven or nine people in the "front of the house" who have become diabetic - adult diabetes! - in the last 18 months. Two girls got asthma, strep throat, possible lupus. There was a girl whose baby was born with a mysterious rash that the Centers for Disease Control couldn't even solve, though antibiotics worked. They now think it was rheumatic fever, from untreated strep throat. That's usually a hygiene issue we're talking the kinds of problems you usually only see in third world countries!

KY: What do you say to the claim that you are a "disgruntled worker"?

CH: I love the magic. I was a Lead at Goofy's but worked as a statused server (more money, you know?) [With a "status" as a server, CMs must be scheduled only to work as servers, unless they specifically request otherwise for that shift]. I was a former University Leader [Those who welcome new-hires and indoctrinate them in the Disney service culture]. I was a Cast Liaison and Trainer, I've won the Spirit Award, and I worked on the VoluntEars committee helping to coordinate Cast Member donations. I've won an excellence award and I've even done media hosting for Disney. Disney's my life, I love the place. I didn't set out to give them bad press.

KY: What about the claim that you, the employees, just didn't clean up properly?

CH: There was a real shortage of cleaning supplies due to budget issues. And it's not in our scope of work no server gets down on his hands and knees to clean waste, and then serves food! Think about it.

KY: What exactly are your injuries and illnesses?

CH: I recently developed fibromyalgia [This is a mysterious chronic pain syndrome, not fully understood by science yet], for one. I fell twice in July 2001 due to wet floors, and this is what sent me on my medical [leave] that led to my termination.

I've also had a non-malignant tumor - the O.C. Weekly had that part wrong; it's not malignant - removed from my sinuses; it was of suspicious nature with infectious cells, so they wanted allergy tests done. I've tested positive for allergies to six different types of molds, and my doctors think it's because of chronic exposure to these molds.

KY: Could you have gotten them at home?

CH: My husband and I are licensed contractors, so we checked this out. All houses have mold, you see. Our house had only one kind of mold and it wasn't one of the six I tested positive for! My doctor then checked me for other stuff, and I tested positive for the antibody for Lyme disease [This is usually transmitted only via chigger or tick bites, and it not common in metropolitan areas]. They wanted to know if I traveled a lot, and I do, but I never had a tick bite. I didn't have a bulls-eye rash, which is what you get from a tick. I did, however, have a rat-bite, fever-type rash several times on my body, which the doctors think could be from chronic exposure to rats.

This is where it gets complicated. They think the Lyme disease is a cross-reaction to the rat-bite type fever. And it's now on a systemic, cellular basis, so that my only solution is a long-term intravenous antibiotics regime over months... but they can't give it to me because it's made from one of the molds that I'm allergic to!

I've had 16 diagnoses, with trouble in my liver, kidneys, spleen, and cysts. I've even got chemical sensitivities the detergent aisle in the grocery store makes me throw up. Next I'm going to the Mayo Clinic to see specialists there.

Goofy
Goofy

KY: We've gotten mail that says the problems at Goofy's are fixed now. One engineer says he knows you but you're off-base here.

CH: I know exactly which engineer you're talking about! Let me tell you about this guy. One day we saw maggots coming out of the rubber baseboards along the wall, so I took a knife, and I pried it off the wall, then I called engineering myself, saying we have a safety hazard here, with nails poking out of it, etc. There was also a lot of mold in that wall. They took the rubber thing off, threw it away, and put another one on there. That's it! Didn't address the maggot issue, didn't fix the dry rot, and didn't fix the mold.

[The engineer in question responded with the following: "She definitely has the wrong person, we had a good relationship... There were other people that did not care as much as I did and did not respond to her request to the level I would have. She may have a legitimate claim, all I know is that I did "my" best to maintain a clean work environment."]

KY: Are you saying that he didn't fix the problems because he isn't a contractor and wouldn't know what to look for, or how to fix it?

CH: Something like that, yes.

KY: Tell me about the process by which your complaint escalated how did it get to this point?

CH: With all the resort construction, the rats had nowhere to go... they have to go someplace! There were no cleaning supplies in the side stations, and it always smelled like something was dying. Every single busser, every single server was sick all the time, like we had a cold that didn't go away.

The new manager in 1999 wouldn't take it seriously. She just said 'well, if you need cleaning supplies, find a steward.' But we don't know who the stewards are. We had meetings with Labor Relations and the Union, with the result that they said 'OK, get them cleaning supplies.' But they didn't keep the supplies right there in the server station. So we brought in our own, and we got in trouble for that.

The stations just became worse and worse when the drains backed up, they poured in bleach. With no ventilation there (the ventilation designed for this area was sealed up when Stromboli's was converted into Goofy's Kitchen), we got headaches. And the side stations now stored dirty plates, something we didn't do at Stromboli's, so we got cockroaches and flies too. Worst of all, there was no soap and water for the sink at the side station, so we couldn't even wash our hands! Imagine that we carry back dirty plates and then bring out 'clean' ones, but can't wash our hands!

Due to budget cuts we stopped having monthly pest control I remember when we still had that. There were zero cleaning supplies. I know it's hard to believe, but I swear that for three years the sinks in the side stations were never once scoured. Three years! Can you imagine that?

The chef and manager began to show up daily and spray the air with a mystery spray and then vacuum bugs out of the air. They wouldn't say what the spray was, only that they claimed it was safe.

We took it to the Hotel Management, then Food and Beverage Management, Labor Relations, the Union, and finally OSHA and the Health Department. We took pictures and samples of the mold, which we sent to the CDC, but they never responded. The Orange County Public Health Department sent out a guy who took our samples, gave them back to my manager and said 'I'm going on vacation, get this girl off my back.' The management then cleaned up the zones in the pictures before the inspector came out again.

Then we went to OSHA, but Disney told them 'we've dealt with it,' and OSHA never did a physical inspection.

After six more months, Disney hired an outside contractor, but won't give out the results of that analysis. [Disneyland Vice President] Mary Niven apparently told our union that they did find toxic mold, but they won't release that info. In the meantime, Disney spent a lot of money to try to clean it up.

And now my daughter, and her friend, also have developed fibromyalgia. They both work at the Disneyland Hotel also, though in different parts. The doctors are trying to figure out if this is something at the hotel, or maybe due to mold I brought home from work.

KY: What do you want to see happen now?

CH: My injuries were from July 2001, so the statue of limitations ran out. I'm annoyed that the union didn't file a grievance until after the statue was expired. But basically, I want my life back. I don't want them to treat the symptoms, I want them to get to the cause and fix it. Now that my daughter's sick, I want to find out if I'm the only one there with problems.

I have a Worker's Compensation claim in now, and the union has a grievance. But it was never about the money. Disney, step up and do the right thing. These are the authorities that are supposed to protect us. I'm not crazy, I'm just pissed off.


How Hanel's case plays out is not, of course, a question that can be decided here. But one thing that her words about her health cannot convey are the persistent coughing fits she went into at least once every two minutes during our hour-long conversation. They sounded painful.

We invite your discussion of this situation on our MousePad discussion boards. And again, if you missed the first article in this series, you can find it here.


Mouse in the House II

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