Walt Weighs In On The Economy

Posted by Bobbi Murray on December 5, 2008

So this is weird: December 5 is Walt Disney’s birthday and I get these two separate Disney things in the e-mail from different people but not entirely unconnected — both relate to our precarious economy.

The first to arrive was the blog DisneyIsUnfaithful.org that arrives courtesy of the local UNITE HERE union that represents the Disney resort workers there in Anaheim, Calif. That’s where Walt set up the Magic Kingdom in the mid-50s and has exerted influence even beyond the grave.

Although that grip seems to have relaxed a bit recently.

I covered the game-changing 2007 battle between The Mouse and the way-smaller but quite formidable labor community-alliance called Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development — OCCORD — in A Tale of Two Anaheims in the Spring 2008 issue of Shelterforce.

The OCCORD coalition supported a development that included a modest amount of somewhat-affordable housing near the site of a new potential Disney theme park geared to those who could pay for top-dollar $149-plus tickets.

Even quasi-affordable housing across the street was not “on message.”

So the Happiest Company On Earth went hammer-and-tongs against OCCORD and allies to crush the proposal.

The Mouse won after spending a lot of money. But it still took a tanking housing market to deliver the Hail Mary Disney needed to scuttle the project.

Anyway, Disney is still the largest employer in Anaheim, and the labor piece of the OCCORD coalition, UNITE HERE, is presently locked in a contract struggle with Disney.

Some 2,300 housekeepers, dishwashers and others who keep the Disney resort hotels running have been working without a contract since February, 2008.

The union refuses to back down on Disney proposals to up eligibility requirements and out-of-pocket costs to workers on health care and other benefits.

Disneyisunfaithful.org — and you have to like the rock-ribbed moral tang of the word “unfaithful” — points out that in 2007, Disney CEO Robert Iger made $27,700,000 or $75,000-plus a day while:

“...a Disney family of four with two full-time working parents, a dishwasher and a housekeeper, together make $41,434 per year, or $3,453 per month.

“The math is obvious: it would take almost two years for this working family to make what Iger makes in just one day. Such families are barely able to pay for the high cost of housing, food, child care, transportation and healthcare in Orange County,” the union blog tells us.

During the affordable housing fight in Anaheim something happened that hadn’t before — the resort workers, mostly immigrant Latinos, turned out in City Hall in force to weigh in on a policy discussion that affected them. Everyone saw they were there to be counted and weren’t going away.

That’s the new dynamic that informs the contract fight.

Disney is the largest employer in Anaheim, and as such has benefitted from all kinds of breaks and largesse from the city based on The Mouse’s part in the city’s economic engine. The union and OCCORD are determined to make sure the employees that keep the engine going are cut in on the deal.

News as it happens, but check out the blog for scenes of Mickey and pals doing civil disobedience and getting arrested!

Meanwhile, someone else sent this weird little 1943 Disney propaganda cartoon, called Spirit of 43 about the economy back then.

As you see, several ducks — one in a zoot suit (!), another in a kilt and one with no pants of any kind — illustrate the idea that a good American in 1943 saves his paycheck to pay taxes for The Troops instead of spending it in bars and helping the Axis.

Confusing — the patriotic Spirit of 43 promotes the complete opposite of what we have been called to do, which is shop to defeat terrorism, which we were all doing until the economy tanked because we had all of us — all! — gotten funny loans to use our houses as ATMs so we could consume and show the terrorists they hadn’t won.

One of these days I plan to find out when the shift occurred — when outsize consumerism became a must in the national economy, so much so that we quake this year when Black Friday and Cyber Monday don’t yield the hoped-for windfall.

Anyway, at least the Big Three’s CEOs car-pooled to Capitol Hill the other day, right?

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