Cast Members' Big Secrets

by David Koenig, contributing writer
Cast Members' Big Secrets

The mutiny TDA doesn't know about; also putrid Jungle, Atlantis II and much more.

Cast Members' Secret Revolt

Shhh! Whatever you do, don't show this article to anyone at Team Disney Anaheim.

Disneyland's top executives, insulated in the TDA building (see above), probably assume that their 6-month-old rotation and breaking system is working fine. After all, the complaints from once-enraged cast members are way down. What the big bosses don't know is that many of the attractions at Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure (DCA) have long since abandoned using the Cast Deployment system and have secretly returned to their own makeshift "rotations."

"Cast Deployment (CDS) is on shaky ground right now," admitted one manager. "It's an absolute nightmare to manage, and the Leads all have about had it. Some Leads are secretly just using the old rotations now, and filling out the Deployment paperwork and whiteboards as if they were really doing CDS. Many managers are quietly looking the other way when that happens. The cast members working under the system are also up to their eyeballs in disgust for the system. It's just useless, and everyone who actually works in the parks, both salaried and hourly, knows it. It hasn't cut a single labor hour, it takes one Lead just to administer and monitor the system, and the cast members get shafted as the big bonus for all that hard work and inefficiency. It's just the dumbest thing I've seen us do in years and years."

In protest, one by one attractions are dropping CDS, with TDA none the wiser. "Many unique attractions, like Canoes, Jungle Cruise, Rafts, Bear Band, Tiki Room and Storybook Land, have almost completely abandoned CDS with a wink and a nod from the managers," the manager confessed. "It's simply unworkable on unique rides where people are in boats away from everything for 10 minutes at a time, or small rides where there are only two or three cast members working there. The Leads at the more standard attractions are forced to make it work, and it is very labor intensive and tedious to manage. It's simply moronic for everyone involved. The big execs, however, refuse to acknowledge that it's not working, and that is very frustrating."

Last week, several of Disneyland's E-ticket attractions began doing CDS in name only. "Rotations are returning to more rides, but the Leads are still filling out the paperwork as if it was CDS," the manager elaborated. "It's incredibly stupid and a waste of time and energy for the Leads and managers to have to play that game, but it's better for the cast members. Most DCA attractions abandoned CDS earlier this summer, but they are playing the same game with filling out the CDS paperwork as if it was still happening. DCA Attractions kept this very quiet, however, since they were supposed to be the CDS pioneers. But Disneyland managers found out, and quietly changed their operations as well. It's just a big joke at this point."

The parks have already gone through two revised versions of CDS, according to the manager, "with little success. It's really kind of sad, as many Jungle skippers who love their jobs simply can't work their favorite attraction anymore, leaving the positions to new hires who also suffer from voice fatigue but often assume it's just their own problem."

So, why doesn't someone in authority pull the plug on CDS? The manager explained: "Normally, we would have dropped this useless plan by now, but unfortunately it was introduced by a big vice president from Florida who won't admit that it's not working. With the very real threat of more salaried layoffs coming in the fall, no one will publicly admit that the 'Emperor has no clothes' in regard to CDS. Everyone is a Yes Man when it comes to discussing CDS with their boss, from the Assistant Managers on up to the two big Resort Operations Managers. No one has the guts right now to face the TDA execs who think CDS is brilliant and working fine."

CDS works better at Disney World primarily because in Florida the system is computerized. A Magic Kingdom employee said, "WDW is using Cast Deployment in most places. Fortunately, it's not as bad as it initially was, as the managers have finally gotten a handle on it. Jungle Cruise is still without it, as it's still too complex to run with multiple boat rotations."

The Anaheim parks were to receive their computers early this summer, but Leads are still running the system by hand. "The computers that were supposed to be here by this summer to help automate the system are no where to be found, with no timetable for their arrival," admitted the manager.

A ride operator added, "One of the rumors making its way around the park is that the backlash to CDS's final phase, the installation of the computers, will be so severe that many of the machines will be destroyed by angry cast members. I have heard that management is even preparing for that possibility by requesting a couple extra machines."

Meanwhile, ride operators, in increasing numbers, are content to continue their silent mutiny. The only problem: what happens when these expensive computers finally do arrive?

Scheduling Nightmares

The ride operator's union is well aware of cast members' displeasure with Cast Deployment. A few weeks ago, Teamsters Local No. 495 mailed members a survey to gather their experiences with and opinions of CDS. The survey was accompanied by a request for help in battling the park's new scheduling system, GEMS, as well as a copy of the official protest letter sent by the union to Disneyland. The letter, addressed to Tom Fox of Disneyland Labor Relations, read:

Teamsters Local 495 must protest, on behalf of all affected members, the Company's unilateral modification of the historical rotation and breaking systems, which have existed for years.

Additionally, Local 495 must protest the modification to the Company's scheduling system as it appears to violate seniority and unfavorably selects lower seniority employees for more desirable shifts, which could afford the opportunity for more employment hours including overtime.

Both of the above modifications have been harmful and detrimental to the members, employed at the Resorts, of Teamsters Local 495. Therefore, it is requested the Company cease and desist from the aforementioned.

GEMS (Group Employee Master Schedules) is a new software program for scheduling cast members in most operations divisions, including Attractions and Merchandise. During Disneyland's first few decades, dozens of clerical cast members using pencils and paper were required to schedule locations. In the mid-1980s, the park finally installed a primitive computer system, A5, and now GEMS has been imported from Disney World to replace A5.

However, GEMS required major tweaking to work at Disneyland. Unlike Disney World, Attractions and other departments at Disneyland are unionized, meaning cast members are guaranteed at least four hours per shift and seniority helps determine who gets what shift. "The issue of seniority wasn't programmed into GEMS, and it's been a real pain to deal with this summer for the higher seniority cast members," said one employee.

Previously, a manager planned the amount of labor to be used per day at each work location by scheduling the proper number and length of shifts. For instance, if the park was open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the Tiki Room operating from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., two people would be scheduled to run that attraction: a 10:30 – 6:45 shift to open and close the show and an 11 – 6 shift, so there would be both a greeter and a theater cast member during all operating hours.

About every 90 minutes, someone would be pulled from the Jungle Cruise rotation to give the Tiki Room staff breaks and lunches. Approximate labor hours to operate the Tiki Room for the day: 15.2 hours. Cast members with Tiki Room experience would then be scheduled into those shifts, based on seniority and who "preferenced" specific attractions or start times via scheduling. Lower-seniority cast members picked up the shorter shifts.

With GEMS, managers no longer plan and schedule individual shifts. Instead, they schedule each attraction's "workload" (the number of cast members needed at differing times of the operating day). In other words, the Tiki Room would need one worker from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., two from 11 to 6, and one from 6 to 6:45 p.m. Managers merely import that information, and the GEMS program takes it from there, scheduling cast members to "fill the workload." Unfortunately, GEMS might take four or five cast members to run the attraction instead of two. It might schedule one cast member from 10:30 to 2:30 p.m., a second from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., a third from 12:45 to 6:45 to provide breaks and close the show, and a fourth from 2 to 6 to replace the person who left at 3:30. Total labor hours for the day: 18.5.

"GEMS does that sort of thing a lot," a manager said. "Instead of just using one 8-hour shift to fill a position, GEMS will schedule two cast members with 4.5 or 5 hour shifts that slightly overlap. Where Pirates of the Caribbean used to require eight or nine cast members with 7 and 8 hour shifts to operate for the first half of the day, it now gets 13 or 14 cast members with shifts ranging from 4 to 8 hours long. And every day the locations are scheduled completely differently, so the Leads never know what to expect in the way of staffing numbers."

The biggest complaints have come from veteran cast members, since seniority becomes just one of several, at times conflicting variables. For example, a Casual Regular might get the 7 a.m. shift at Star Tours while an A gets the 10 a.m. shift—even though the full-timer "preferenced" to have the earliest shift at that location. The scheduler, of course, blames it on the computer.

GEMS seems to throw all the qualified cast members into a hat and then assigns hours and locations almost at random. So, during the course of a week, ride operators might find themselves working all over the park.

"It's a huge pain in the neck for many cast members, and most hate it," a manager said. "It needs a lot of work. But, since it's being used in Florida, it must be great! At least that's the thinking on most things that come from Florida."

Another employee grumbled, "Management says it is going to work. Right. Like CDS. 'Preferences' has become a dirty word. Don't say it in front of a cast member, they might growl at you. As one told me, GEMS should be Guess Every M************ Schedule."

Spinning Off FastPass

Another coming change at the parks may also pave the way for a return to rotations at Attractions. Currently, ride operators staff all FastPass positions. Within the coming weeks, FastPass will be spun off from Attractions to become its own business unit, headed by two former Attractions managers. FastPass cast members may also work shifts in Guest Control, which will remain under the Attractions umbrella. In time, FastPass may be incorporated under Guest Services, which oversees Main Entrance, Guest Relations and Security.

As a result, says one employee, "Attractions cast members won't have to work the generally undesirable FastPass positions anymore, but it also means a reduction in the number of hours Attractions cast members will be scheduled."

The rationale behind the change is that previously each attraction with FastPass had two Leads at any given time. Now, each attraction will have one, and there will be one Lead responsible for three FastPass systems (Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates, for example). The move should save money as well as boost morale among Attractions cast members (except for the part about reduced hours).

Supposedly, for the next few months, no one new will be hired into Attractions; recruits all will be placed in FastPass.

"If they can't fill all the needed cast member slots from Casting or transfer cast members, they will pull from Attractions cast members until they can build up their own base of departmental cast members," noted one employee. "I have no idea what cast member currently working in either park would want to transfer to FastPass, but Casting should be able to find a few clueless new hires to work FastPass. The thought is that Attractions managers should only be concentrating on the safe, courteous and efficient operation of the attraction itself. With FastPass a separate entity managed by someone else, Attractions Leads and Managers will focus solely on the attraction and its guests."

In theory, FastPass also should benefit by becoming its own department, instead of Attractions' step-child. Managers now can concentrate on improving the system and making it work more smoothly. But it also makes you wonder if there will be increasing pressure to find a way to make money off FastPass.

The Jungle Stinks

One night the week before last, the Jungle Cruise shut down for the night—and took Fantasmic with it.

According to a West Side host: "There was a problem with the water system in the Adventureland area that caused raw sewage to be pumped into the Jungle Cruise water. I was told that before the ride closed a couple guests vomited at the sight of solid waste floating down the Nile River. One child asked if they let the animals use the waterways as a toilet. Eventually the water flooded onto the Adventureland and Frontierland walkways with this disgusting mix of Jungle Cruise and sewer water—not that the Jungle Cruise water is necessarily that clean under normal conditions. Guests were forced to exit the West Side of the park via the Big Thunder Trail into Fantasyland."

As a result of either the flooding or of the contamination spreading to the Rivers of America, the 10:30 performance of Fantasmic was canceled.

According to a Facilities veteran, "This happens on a regular basis in the last few years. It used to be that contamination would occur when the heavy rains caused the sewers to back up, maybe once a year, but since (new Facilities management) took over, it can happen once a month, somewhere in the park."

He says the most common causes are the Custodial department no longer hosing backstage, which helped to keep sewer lines unclogged, and less frequent emptying of park septic tanks.

My advice: Don't go swimming in the river.

Second Life For Atlantis II

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And, finally, out to Glendale: Walt Disney Television Animation is having second thoughts about entirely scrapping Team Atlantis, the weekly TV show that was to follow up Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The division is proceeding with a direct-to-video called Atlantis: The New Adventures.

Originally, the direct-to-video was to be an original story called Atlantis II: Shards of Chaos, which bridged the gap between the movie and the series. Instead, Disney will use the first three TV episodes. One was mostly through preproduction, including writing, recording, storyboard, design and direction. The other two were finished with preproduction and had been shipped overseas for layout and animation. The episodes' beginnings and endings, though, had to be rewritten to tie their stories together.

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Those who worked on the canned series seemed grateful that something was being salvaged. "It's not 39 episodes, but it'll do," said one employee. "Granted tomorrow they might change their minds, but as of today that's the plan."

A co-worker speculated: "I suspect that now that this is a direct to video instead of just an average TV episode we may have a bigger budget and more time to do things better than just average."

As for a true Atlantis II, he mused, "I wouldn't put it past the direct-to-video department to be working on an Atlantis sequel or prequel. They did a Hunchback sequel, so nothing is impossible as far as I'm concerned."

You can write to David atthis link..