A test using iPhones to alert custodians of cleaning jobs at Walt Disney World has raised the wrath of the union that claims the move is akin to Big Brother watching the janitors’ every move.
Unite Here Local 362, the union representing more than 2,000 janitors at Walt Disney World (WDW), filed a grievance Oct. 18 against the test and the resort has until Wednesday to respond. Despite the protest, the “Custodial of Tomorrow” test started Sunday and includes 40 custodial workers in the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland. It is scheduled to run through January 14.
Disney World has placed electronic sensors in restrooms and garbage cans. The sensors send an alert through the cell phones carried by custodians telling them where to go to service an area. A certain number of people entering a bathroom will trigger a search for the nearest available custodian. Sensors will also be tripped when trashcans are three-quarters full.
Union reps worry about worker privacy, a possible reduction of custodial staff, loss of seniority in choosing assignments and potential discipline for employees who lose or damage the phones.
“Our people are angry and very agitated about the situation,” said Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here Local 362, which represents full-time cast members who work in attractions, custodial, and vacation planning at Walt Disney World. “We plan to file an unfair labor charge with the government, if the issues are not resolved.”
The union randomly surveyed 85 custodians Oct. 13 about the iPhone test and “all were upset,” Clinton said.
WDW custodians choose their schedules and work assignments according to seniority, however, seniority was not used when the employees involved in the Tomorrowland test were assigned to locations. Clinton said iPhones are expensive equipment and wonders about penalties against workers, if the cell phones are lost, stolen are damaged. Custodians currently wear radios that check their accountability and Clinton said the use of cell phones is redundant.
“We can all see the writing on the wall,” Clinton said. “The company (WDW) is not doing this just for fun. If they are serious about it, they will make it work.”
Andrea Finger, spokesperson for Walt Disney World Resort, said she could not comment on the grievance or the union’s specific concerns but issued this statement:
“This new approach will enable us to deploy cast members in real time, to areas that need service, ultimately making the cast and guest experiences even better.”
Dr. Duncan Dickson, associate professor of tourism, events, and attractions at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management, said he sees nothing wrong with the new technology that “alerts the custodial staff to issues that need to be solved before they become a problem.”
Walt Disney World has done studies to show the number of guests in and out of restrooms and when they need to be serviced, said Dickson, who worked for Disney for 20 years and served as director of resort casting before teaching at Rosen.
“Unions are very reactive to change and feel this might impinge upon their union members’ rights,” he said. “But I don’t see that happening.”
Other industries use similar technology to track workers’ productivity. For example, trucking companies use GPS to locate long-haul drivers and make sure they are taking the required breaks every eight hours.
Disney already uses technology to track guests throughout the park. MagicBands, which function as tickets, credit cards, and entry to hotel rooms, provide information about visitors’ spending.
Clinton said Disney’s Custodial of Tomorrow test was never negotiated with the union, and many issues need to be resolved. If Disney does not respond to the grievance by Wednesday, the union will proceed to arbitration. The union has six months to file the unfair labor charge.