NI: Global Issues for Learners of English > The Issues > Disney > Working at Disney World

Working at Disney World

It's no fun!

50,000 people work at Disney's largest theme park, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

THEME PARK: (n) A large amusement park in which the different rides and attractions are connected in some way


Disney does not call its workers 'employees'; it calls them 'cast members'.

One Disney worker explains how 'cast members' are given jobs according to their age and appearance. For example:

  • Young and pretty workers get jobs where they will interact a lot with the customers;
  • Older women sell things in the stores;
  • Older men work in security;
  • Haitian women work in housekeeping;
  • Young people from Puerto Rico work in food services and preparation;
  • African Americans work as cooks, stewards and in food preparation;
  • Anyone who might seem less 'presentable' works on the night shift, from 11pm - 7am.


CAST MEMBERS: actors in a production, like a show or a movie or a play

INTERACT: (c) talk to the customers, serve them help them, deal with them in some way

HOUSEKEEPING: work like doing laundry and cleaning

LESS PRESENTABLE: (adj) not so attractive to look at


Mike Cohen, another Disney worker and a trade union activist, says that most Disney workers do not stay with the company for very long.

"You can make $10 per hour if you're here for 10 years, but because so many people leave, two-thirds of the workers at the park make $6.57 per hour, or less."

Disney has not increased its starting wage for five years.


A TRADE UNION is an organization of workers; its aim is to protect and improve workers rights, conditions and pay.
A TRADE UNION ACTIVIST is a member of a trade union who takes an active role in the organization

Disney claims that it is a progressive employer, and says it offers "competitive" salaries. But Cohen doesn't agree:

"Sure [wages are] competitive, compared to the minimum wage which is at the poverty level."

COMPETITIVE: (adj) the pay compares well with other jobs

MINIMUM WAGE: (n) the lowest amount of money that someone can be paid (by law)

Disney is planning to expand and will need about 10,000 new workers - but about 75% of the new jobs will also be low paid.


"People think we're all high school kids," Cohen said, but he explains that the median age of the people in his trade union unit is 38.

MEDIAN AGE: (n) average age


Cohen is also unhappy about the way people have to work at Disney World.

"We have to push as many visitors through each ride as we can...... At Big Thunder Mountain, I'm supposed to handle 2,000 visitors an hour. It's just like a factory with assembly-line production, only this is a fun factory."


ASSEMBLY-LINE PRODUCTION: making things like a huge factory where everyone is doing the same small job over and over again

Cohen says that the most important thing for the company is the number of people who are processed through each ride: if the number is too low, the management complains to the workers.

But he says that you never hear the management ask, "Are you being safe enough?"



Disney workers also have to smile all the time. Even when customers are rude (which happens every day), the workers must keep smiling. Cohen says:

"We're supposed to make eye contact, greet each and every guest and smile for eight hours. If you don't, you get reprimanded,"

He added that he sometimes hears customers saying that the workers at Disney are not as happy as they used to be. He's not surprised: if someone isn't paid enough, you don't expect them to be happy.


MAKE EYE CONTACT:(v) look into someone's eyes; meet someone's eyes (in the culture of USA this is a good thing to do)

REPRIMAND:(v) to tell someone that they are not doing their job well enough

The articles "Inside the Disney dream machine" and "Service with a smile" both by Wayne Ellwood, on which this was based, appeared in the Dec 1998 issue of the New Internationalist.

© 1998, 1999: the New Internationalist

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Last Modified: 19 June 1999

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