Disney's Homeless Temps

Homeless temps subcontracted to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios or Sea World nominally earn the minimum wage (without benefits, of course), but in reality they earn much less. From that $4.25 per hour, labor pools typically deduct the cost of transportation, uniforms, meals, tools, and safety equipment -- and those that provide housing charge a nightly fee -- cutting deeply into the laborer's real wage and often forcing them into debt. "It's slavery," says Mervyn Cordner, a workers' rights advocate at the Greater Orlando Area Legal Services. It is unclear how many such laborers local theme parks employ, but Cordner estimates that hundreds work at Disney. "I have people from the shelter tell me they've been working at Disney for six years. They've been shipped all around the Disney program. They work in every section, and they are not permanent." Cordner's clients commonly complain of unscrupulous and devious treatment from the pools. Some homeless workers engaged to rake lawns have found themselves shoveling sewage. Others have been left behind at job sites such as Walt Disney World, 20 miles from Orlando, with no transportation back to their shelters. On June 16, the Florida Legislature passed the Labor Pool Act to prevent such abuses. The law also forbids charging workers for uniforms, tools or safety equipment, and it imposes a reasonable cap on transportation deductions. Pools must also provide water, bathrooms and seating for workers, and pay them in cash or check instead of vouchers. Unfortunately, the bill provides for no state oversight or regulation, leaving litigation as the only recourse for homeless workers unfairly treated by their employers. Currently only Texas and Georgia have regulations protecting day laborers, and they remain all but unprotected by federal labor law. In 1971, a National Day Labor Protection Act was introduced in Congress but failed to get out of committee. That bill, similar in most respects to Florida's new law, would additionally have required labor pools to be licensed, in effect bringing them under regulatory oversight of federal agencies.

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