This year the team over at The DisInsider decided to begin an annual tradition of picking a “Person of the Year” that is connected to The Walt Disney Company. As we tally up the votes for this year’s The DisInsider Awards 2020, we wanted to announce the first recipient of The DisInsider’s Person of the Year award. With the Disney company being so large and having so many different divisions, there were many contenders to chose from, but when we looked back at the entirety of 2020 there was one clear winner, Disney’s Parks, Experiences, and Products Cast Members.
“Cast Members” is Disney Park’s parlance for employee and while there is a good argument they should receive this honor every year, this year was particularly impactful for these amazing individuals. Cast Members are the heart and soul of Disney since Disneyland opened back in 1955. They are the first bit of magic you encounter when entering the parks and the last person to wish you a magical day when you leave.
In all service and sales companies the employees that deal directly with the customers are extremely important to the success of the business. However, Walt Disney knew that his employees were even more vital due to their need to not just provide services and sell goods, but to do it with unmatched customer service. The company set a high bar for their employees to meet and over the decades it has become the gold standard for any company that deals directly with the public.
Walt Disney referred to his employees in the parks as Cast Members and called the theme parks a stage, making these employees part customer service, part sales, and part performer, regardless of their official position. The rides, restaurants, and shops are merely the outline of the theme park, acting to hold the experience together like pages of an untouched coloring book. The Cast Members color in these pages and bring the entire experience to life.
Whether it is the ticket taker upfront, the performers embodying various characters on Main Street, the dancers along the parade routes, the sweepers cleaning the sidewalks, the ride operators checking seatbelts and maintaining Disney’s near perfect safety record, the food workers preparing and serving snacks and meals, salespersons working the crowded shops, the housekeeping staff at the hotels, and the thousands of others that provide the bits of color that make lasting impressions and provide lifelong memories, they are all necessary, appreciated, and responsible for Disney’s success for more than six decades.
This past year has been incredibly painful for many Cast Members due to the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Nearly 32,000 Cast Members have been, or are planning to be, laid off. As of October it was reported that nearly 37,000 Cast Members were being placed on furlough. This last year saw the closing of every single Disney theme park and their entire cruise line. As of January 1st, 2021, half of the parks are currently closed, and the cruise line is still docked. The parks that are open are running at limited capacity with many shows, restaurants, and hotels closed.
For many Cast Members, working for Disney was not merely a means to an end. They weren’t mindlessly clocking into a job just to pick up their paycheck. For many working for Disney was a way of life, a lifelong goal, and their coworkers were considered family. This made the layoffs even more difficult because not only did it put thousands in extremely difficult financial distress, it also marked the premature end of a dream that they embodied on a daily basis.
For the Cast Members currently on furlough, the general thought is that they will not be laid off. However, thousands of Cast Members put on furlough back in the spring found themselves being laid off a few months later. This uncertainty adds a lot of anxiety to Cast Members as they wait for either a call to come back to work or a call to inform them they are laid off.
Then there are the Cast Members who haven’t lost their jobs and are currently working at one of the partially opened resorts. These Cast Members are clearly grateful that they get to continue to spread joy and magic and have the security of a regular paycheck, however, they are also having to interact with large numbers of the public in the middle of a pandemic, putting their own health at risk. Due to the current circumstance, they also are finding themselves acting as glorified hall monitors, enforcing mask requirements and social distancing to unwilling and woefully uninformed guests. This has turned many jobs from smile inducing magic making to strict enforcement officers.
While most of the public support has been with the laid off and furloughed Cast Members, it is important to remember that those who are still employed are working jobs unrecognizable to the ones they had previously.
The DisInsider wants to thank Disney Cast Member’s for all of their hard work this past year. We are in awe of your ability to turn a concrete jungle filled with rides and restaurants into the happiest and most magical places on earth. This past year has put you all through a lot of hardship and we are so sorry. We cannot wait to see you in the parks someday soon.
In honor of Disney’s Cast Members, The DisInsider has made a donation to Cast Member Pantry, an organization that collects resources for Disney Cast Members such as groceries and services to help find work.
We encourage everyone to support this organization, visit www.castmemberpantry.com for more details, this links you to the group’s Facebook page.
While you are Disney’s most valuable player every year, we are honored to name Disney’s Parks, Experiences, and Products Cast Members, The DisInsider’s 2020 Person of the Year.