Strike Bitterness a Lingering Reality in Fantasyland

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Times Staff Writer

Disneyland is back in the fantasy business, hosting a yearlong 30th anniversary extravaganza that promises a $12-million flood of prizes and special events for park visitors.

As part of the celebration, park workers have for the first time in memory replaced the “Happiest Place on Earth” slogan on the park’s big Harbor Boulevard sign with a new phrase: “The Best Is Yet to Come.”

But to many park workers, the removal of the old slogan is an ironic comment on the state of Disneyland in the aftermath of a 22-day strike that ended three months ago.


While most of the park’s 5,000-plus employees apparently are trying to put the walkout behind them, a residue of bitterness toward management and striking union members who crossed picket lines remains among many who stayed off the job for the strike’s duration.

Bitterness Has Spread

The post-strike bitterness has spread even to some workers who were not members of striking unions.

Many park employees were anxious to talk about the situation in recent interviews. Most of those who were critical of their supervisors or fellow workers asked that their names not be used, saying they feared reprisals from management.

One seven-year-veteran ride operator said he is quitting his job and that the strike “absolutely” had something to do with the decision.

“The strike just showed that Disneyland management could care less about the employees and the guests,” said the man, whose final work day was Saturday. He asked that his name not be used so as not to jeopardize his search for a new job.

“They’re more than happy to see me leave. They’re going to replace me with someone who makes $5 an hour and gets no benefits whatever,” he said, adding that he earned about $10 an hour plus benefits.


The strike settlement slows pay advancement for incoming workers, and benefits are fewer until they reach the highest levels of seniority. The 1,844 striking workers got a two-year wage freeze.

The departing worker, who stayed out for the duration of the strike, said he is leaving without having first secured a new job because “that’s how fed up I am.”

Increase in Grievances

Dick Reynolds, president of the Teamsters union local that represented more than half of the striking union members, said the volume of grievances against Disneyland by members of his local has “probably doubled” from pre-strike levels.

Workers have alleged harassment, mostly by lower-level supervisors, and claimed they are being bypassed for promotion because of their strike activity, he said.

Reynolds said he is convinced that upper-level Disneyland management “wants things calmed down,” but he said he feels that many lower-level managers bear grudges because they were subjected to pressure both from strikers and their managers during the strike.

Reynolds said that grievance allegations are “a pretty common thing after a strike, especially a first-time strike.” He said that workers who experience their first walkout are often disillusioned by the shattering of what had been harmonious relations.


Despite repeated attempts to contact them, Disneyland officials were unavailable for comment last week.

The strike was only the second involving more than 50 employees in the park’s 29-year history, and the first by the five unions involved. The park remained open throughout the walkout.

Despite the lingering bad feelings, those interviewed said almost unanimously that a majority of the park’s workers are trying to put the strike behind them. And many who stayed out on strike are forgiving fellow members of striking unions who crossed picket lines.

“Personally, I have had no problems coming back,” said Paula Hunter, a ride operator for 10 years who works on Main Street U.S.A.

Strike ‘All They Talked About’ Hunter said that most of the striking union members on Main Street returned before the strike ended (she did not) and that their relative lack of division has made post-strike readjustment easier.

“It really depends on where you work in the park,” she said. “I worked in Fantasyland for a few weeks in December, and it seemed like the strike had just happened yesterday. It was virtually all they talked about there.”


Hunter said she feels that some of the hard feelings exist because “everyone wants to feel they did the right thing. I have friends who crossed who really feel they did the right thing.”

But many said the strike still has an effect on their daily dealings in the park.

Many Crossed Line Sue Kemp, who has worked in sales at Disneyland stores for 13 1/2 years, said “there are a lot of (members of striking unions) who crossed the picket line that I’m not talking to because they didn’t have to cross. They had other people working in their families.”

Kemp, a steward for one of the striking locals, said she has filed three grievances against Disneyland since the strike. One resulted from a performance review she received in December that was “the worst I ever got” in three categories that evaluate attitude, she said.

“Those three (categories), I feel, have something to do with the strike,” Kemp said.

Employees who stayed out for all of the strike’s 22 days have created an informal club, open only to them, known as Club 22. Its name is a take-off on Disneyland’s members-only Club 33 in the park’s New Orleans Square.

‘There are a lot of (members of striking unions) who crossed the picket line that I’m not talking to because they didn’t have to cross. They had other people working in their fam ilies. They have printed shirts with the club’s name and an insignia showing Sleeping Beauty’s Castle nestled in a large V for Victory symbol, and there are pins that mimic those issued to Club 33 members.

And those who struck socialize together more than they did before the strike, many of those interviewed say.


The residue of bad feelings is shared by some Disneyland workers who were not part of the strike. One technician who has worked at the park for nine years said that many workers are becoming less loyal because “it’s losing that family-type feeling.”

“It used to be that Disneyland was always first priority. But for some of us, especially those who also work outside, Disneyland is becoming the second job,” said the man, who asked that his name not be used.

Greater Unity Cited “Everyone has the feeling now that we’re going to be next--we’re going to be the next union they try to bust up. . . . I think management just wants you to come in, do two years and leave. It’ll give them a firmer grip over employees.”

Reynolds, the Teamsters local president, said that the strike unified union members at Disneyland and that they will be more united if another strike occurs.

About a third of the striking union members at Disneyland returned to work before the strike ended. If the same strike were to occur now, Reynolds said, “we’d have more people out on the picket line, there’s no doubt about that.”

Positive Sign Jeff Fiedler, an AFL-CIO official in Washington who advised striking Disneyland unions during the walkout, said the coming together of strikers since they returned to work “is not so usual after a strike. . . . I can’t look at it as anything but positive.”


Though some disenchanted workers are leaving the park, most will stay because they have built up many years of seniority, and there thus will remain a strong nucleus of those who went through last year’s strike, Fiedler and Reynolds said.