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David Koenig
Mailbag — Week of August 21, 2001

Readers wrote in about the recent story on a cast member mutiny.

Mailbag

A former Disney World cast member wrote:

Thanks for the great article today on MousePlanet. I've been curious how Cast Deployment has been going at Disneyland, and I'm quite amused to see that the cast members have staged a "mutiny" against it. I thought you might like to know that, according to my sources, things aren't going much better for CDS in Florida. Apparently, even with the computers, the system is an absolute nightmare to run. One source cited that the computer(s) must be constantly staffed by at least one manager to keep the system going.

Abuses of the system (e.g., cast members circumventing the system partially or entirely) are reportedly rampant. Though abuses of the rotation system existed, and put an unnecessary burden on the honest cast members, it seems that abuses of CDS are more pervasive and destructive.

My one concern about the article—and I hope this doesn't come to pass—is that it will cause TDA to clamp down on the "mutiny." The sad fact is that Disney management often doesn't care how well things work or don't work—they're more concerned with the politics, as noted in your article.

This phenomenon is not limited to CDS, or to the threat of layoffs—it's been rampant and systemic to Disney management for a very, very long time. The string of managers, each telling the successive levels of management that "everything is rosy" is an all too familiar theme to me. Unfortunately, it would be politically expedient (though costly) to pour more money and labor into making the system work—or at least appear to work.

Regarding the "GEMS" scheduling system, I'm not sure if this is the same system that was in place when I worked at Disney World, but it sure sounds like it. The difference is, that at least at WDW, they did not blindly accept whatever the computer spit out (you want to talk about mutiny!). They had one manager who worked on scheduling full- time (as much as any of the managers there worked, anyway; let's just say that I wasn't too impressed with their work ethic). They would basically take apart the computer-generated schedule and re-assemble it. I talked to the manager in charge of that once, and was astounded at how poor the system was. Having a background in software development, I knew it could have been done much, much better—but I was left with the impression that the whole affair was too enshrouded in politics to mess with it.

The other clarification I'd like to offer, is that while Florida is not "all union," they do have to consider seniority in scheduling. Florida workers are under contract, and I believe the contract even covers non-union workers. Of course, it often doesn't work out that way. I was often scheduled with less-desirable shifts and locations, despite my seniority. The excuse was always that "this is the best we could do" given the intricacies of scheduling that many people by hand.

Finally, regarding the plan to split FastPass from attractions, I'm not so sure that this is a good thing. Besides the potential that they will try to turn it into a profit center in itself, I'm afraid that it will become an operational fiasco. Perhaps things work differently in California, but in Florida, separate departments do not work especially well together. When you have two different departments like this, effectively working the same "turf," I think you're going to see a lot of turmoil, and a lot of "the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing." I can also see each department pursuing different, and mutually-exclusive goals—such as FastPass pushing for greater capacity or throughput, without regard to how operations could implement or handle such changes. To me, this sounds like another "CDS" fiasco in the making. Regardless, I'm sure it will be "just wonderful" to management.

"A Skipper" wrote:

Let me start by saying this: I love your site. I am a longtime reader, and also have enjoyed your column in particular. That said, I am also a cast member and a skipper at that.

Your most recent article shocked me. Was it presenting the truth? Oh, of course. CDS has wreaked havoc upon the Jungle Cruise, and so when after a disastrous three-day bout with Phase Three of CDS, we found ourselves back on old rotations, with a few modifications to preserve the CDS illusion, we were thrilled. At last, our voices got better, and we perked up.

But what was your purpose in spreading this to the world? The only reason we were getting away with it is because we were quiet about it. You KNOW this. You said as much in the column. (I might add, that other than Tiki, which we staff, I had no idea other attractions had dropped CDS as well, so well was the illusion kept.) We were quiet, to keep Upper Management from noticing, such as the bigwigs at TDA. You acknowledge this in the opening of your piece. And you are right that we were "content to continue (our) silent mutiny."

But why on earth did you feel compelled to make a story out of it? To prove that TDA does read MousePlanet? Well, now we at Jungle all know they do, as our attraction is being monitored under heavy scrutiny, and management is dropping by to make sure we stick to the CDS game plan. Also the name of MousePlanet and the phrase "that Internet guy" have been on many a skipper's tongue, usually preceded and followed by a string of expletives.

Our biggest secret? Not anymore, unfortunately. But the damage has been done. Back to CDS we go!

Will I continue to visit this site? Probably. There are still sections I appreciate that cannot be found elsewhere. I'll continue to read your column. But I am appalled and saddened by what has happened. Instead of encouraging the company to see where it has stumbled, you made the bigwigs look foolish for not having noticed this sooner, and made other management HAVE to look at us, instead of passing a blind eye, as was done before.

I hope you understand why I am writing this. I'm not trying to sound rude and accusatory, or even angry. I'm not. But I am sad. What was to be gained (in a journalistic, investigative reporting sense) for any greater good by revealing, true, one of our big secrets?

I guess all this boils down to: Why did you do it?

I'm just kinda curious, I guess.

Skipper, thanks for writing me. Yours is the first I've heard that the story has had any effect, albeit a negative one. I'll inquire if the CDS Police are patrolling other attractions as well. It seems preposterous that they would enforce CDS on Jungle, of all rides; it's the only ride that even Disney World admits CDS is unworkable on.

Certainly my intention was not to prove anything about MousePlanet nor to worsen cast members' burden nor to humiliate TDA. My intention is never to insult anyone. I have nothing against anyone at TDA. I'm sure many are nice, well-meaning folks. They are certainly not stupid, but CDS (at least in its varied forms at Disneyland) is.

Whenever I expose ridiculous practices such as CDS, my intention is to encourage management to change or improve those practices. I thought that would be evident from all the cast member quotes critical of CDS.

Let's be honest. In a week or two, or a month or two, when the computers finally arrive, there will be no way to continue faking CDS. So, there were two possible scenarios:

(A) David Koenig shuts up, and TDA remains clueless as every single attraction in DL and DCA secretly returns to rotations. All TDA knows is that cast members are no longer complaining about CDS. TDA assumes that, after three tries, the system finally works and cast members have come to accept it. Then come the expensive computers, which TDA assumes will make life even easier for cast members. The computers force cast members to return to CDS on all attractions and the complaints resurface. But TDA, of course, assumes that cast members will get used to the new system in a month or six. After all, if it worked without the benefit of the computers, it should be a snap now!

(B) TDA learns that all the former complaints about CDS are true and the only reason the complaints stopped was that cast members, leads and even managers were forced, in desperation, to circumvent the system.

Does Scenario B stop the computers from arriving? Probably not. But it does lay the foundation for improvements long-term. To my way of thinking, the sooner TDA realizes the folly of CDS the better. Management now knows CDS is fatally flawed. The bigwigs are not foolish for not knowing cast members abandoned CDS. But the bigwigs would be foolish to enforce a system they know doesn't work.

Again, I appreciate you writing. I deeply apologize if I contributed to a more difficult work environment. I pray some good eventually comes out of it.

A Tomorrowland ride operator wrote:

At last someone can tell the public of the horrors of working in attractions now. I was hired in right before CDS and I loved my job, I still do just not as much.

In locations such as Space Mountain, some leads have resorted to "old school" rotations because people would be stuck in rotations for 2.5 to 3 hours. Space has the common situation of lack of staffing (one Space cast member works 100+ hours a week during the summer). The lead is forced to work in rotation and cannot do any of the needed CDS paperwork, thus forgetting other people and the sorely needed rotational bumps.

Honestly at Star Tours, CDS is fine, but Tours is always overstaffed, as you mentioned in your article.

Astro Orbiter is usually fine but if one person calls sick all heck breaks loose. Soon Star Tours and Astro Orbiter will be all one rotation, which should remedy that problem.

Autopia is a whole story on its own. When I was first cross-trained on Autopia before CDS, it was fine. Breaks every 45 minutes on 90 degree days were very needed, overall it was a fun attraction to work. However, when CDS started leads had to work with two rotations, two boards, two break sheets. Leads would forget needed things and people would be (and still are) in rotations for three hours and rotational bumps would not come for 60 -90 minutes, making Autopia very monotonous—especially on 90 degree days.

Needless to say, Autopia has about 4 to 8 shifts open daily due to the lack of willingness to work such a horrible attraction. Most new hires have gone well over 6 months with no second attraction (when it is common to get a second one after 3 to 4 months) causing at least 6 cast members and friends of mine to quit in frustration.

Don't get me even started on why we don't ride up the cars anymore… we WALK them up, making an already strenuous job even harder labor.

Few people on Autopia have more than nine months seniority, because anyone with any "B" or "A" status has preferenced other attractions.

I won't even get into the countless times cast members and guests get hurt. Morale at Auto is very, very low. With an attraction that has 500+ labor hours a day (probably the most in the park) with a hourly count of around 1,400 make New Autopia a horribly inefficient ride, not to mention a waste of space now. I wonder if Auto would still be here if Chevron didn't pump some insane amount of money to sponsor the attraction.

I doubt with all the overtime in the park during the summer CDS is actually saving any money.

On the subject of "Dark Days" Andrew Salter mused:

Some people had some strong objections to the idea of Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure's Dark Days. Frankly, I can't see what the trouble is all about. There are so many ups that they make the downs a weak shout. There are many advantages to this proposal that I hope Disney takes into account.

Here are some of those advantages:

First thing to do: Find a day. Actually, this is quite an easy process. I don't think that the two parks should close all on the same day, if DCA does, indeed, adopt the dark days proposal. Disneyland should close on a day like Monday, because that is a dark day for many parks, restaurants, and theaters. That way, Disneyland would not miss out on the business of the week. DCA should go dark on either Sunday or Tuesday.

Second advantage: Cleaning. The parks would have a chance to recuperate from the week's traffic. With a day-long dark day, the park would be able to thoroughly clean all windows, streets, and sidewalks. The flume rides would have time to be completely cleaned. This would improve the parks overall appearance, and make the job for the graveyard shift lighter and less intense.

Third advantage: Paint. The off-day would be a great time to touch up or even repaint various scenes, buildings and murals. Toontown especially would benefit. It would look like a brand new park every week.

Fourth advantage: Miscellaneous Repairs. This category includes lights, polishing, gardens and trees. All these things would be able to have attention turned on them. Gardens could be replanted, trees could be pruned (or removed ;) ) and rails could be polished. This would contribute to the new look every week.

Fifth advantage: Construction. For rides or shops being worked on, these days could be times for the crews to step up the speed and intensity of the construction. They could work at whatever volume and whatever tools needed, because they would not have to worry about "shattering the illusion," for there would be no people there.

Sixth and most important advantage: RIDE MAINTENANCE. All rides could get a through examination on the dark days. These examinations could prevent more costly repairs needed if problems arise unchecked. This would also decrease downtime and improve reliability, increasing guest happiness. Animatronics could be checked, cars tuned, water cleaned, Pirates boats drained of all their splash water, and paint touch ups all in the same day. A yearly rehab would still be necessary, but the rehabs could be kept to a minimal amount of time. Think of how much safer the park would be with all this preventative maintenance.

Someone commented that some park cast members "depend on seven-day schedules to support their families." That's fine. Such cast members can work the maintenance days. Cast members would have the opportunity to take a day off, but could also work these days if they needed the money for support or whatever other reasons.

There is so much more on the upside to this. And as "Steve's prophetic email" proves, it would be easy to sell the idea to Disneyland fans, the general public, and the Big Teeth at the Walt Disney Company.

If annual passholders object, here's an idea: Disney, make Monday a blackout day on the annual pass (then open up some other dates to make them happy).

Oh, and just a note, someone said, "As for closing down the park a day a week, NOT A CHANCE. The Chicago Cubbies will win a World Series before that happens." I'd like the reader to know that currently, the Chicago Cubbies happen to be in first place in the National League Central. Go Cubs.

Walt's original vision was to have a park that was completely different than trashy, ordinary amusement parks like Coney Island. He wanted a clean, safe, courteous and happy park. That's what he accomplished while he was alive, let's keep the dream going.

Glen Hallstrom wrote:

I just finished reading the email you got your "Dark Days" article. Lemme just make some comments on the response it's getting.

As a former resident of Long Beach, I used to drive down Willow/Katella about every six months just to go and see what was new. And now I see what's new: No upkeep. I'm just glad I'm not there to see this deterioration going on right in front of my eyes.

I notice a lot of people writing in saying that the Disney people should use the proposed dark days for maintenance. I couldn't agree more, from what I'm seeing on this website.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I find it sad and in some way heartbreaking to see Disney fans have to resort to practically beg the Disney folks to maintain their park.

It does seem sort of skewed that customers are practically begging a company to please shut down its place of business so the product will improve!

Abel Pinedo wrote:

Hey, my father retired from Disneyland after 34 years in landscaping. I can still remember that day back in the late '70s, (not 1972 as someone commented) when my dad came home ranting and raving about how starting very soon, the park would be open seven days a week and how this will prevent larger scale maintenance projects to take place during the daylight hours. I was about 8 at the time so that would be 1978-79.

Finally, Josh gushed:

Sewage in the Jungle Cruise? Sign me up for a three-hour tour!

Readers wrote in about the recent story on the Cast Deployment cast member mutiny.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

You can contact David here.

LINKS

Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.

Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)

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