Disney World staff get their perks back; hopes rise that Hollywood writers strike will end

In this week's HR new round-up: a government shutdown looms; Hollywood could soon be back making movies again, and Disney staff get their perks back:

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Sep 28, 2023
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Disney World staff get their perks back after governing district’s U-turn

Amid mounting criticism from employees, Walt Disney World’s governing district has agreed to return the staff perks it took away earlier this year, by paying Disney employees an extra $3,000 per year – the equivalent to the cost of a year-long theme park pass. Prior to the Florida Legislature taking over the previously Disney-controlled district, staff were each given a free pass to the theme park as part of their employment contract so staff could create memories with their families. The district was taken over earlier this year by the Florida Legislature, which provides municipal services like mosquito control, drainage and wastewater treatment. The legislature claimed the theme park season passes (amounting to $2.5 million), as well as the discounts it offers on hotels, merchandise and food & beverages amounted to unethical benefits and perks. It claimed Disney actually made money out of the perk, by funneling spending back to itself, while the legislature had to foot the running-costs bill. However, staff claim the pass is simply an employee benefit rather than a taxpayer scam. And, under mounting pressure to reinstate the perk, officials have finally said they would. At the time, the removal of the perks was wildly seen as state retaliation against Disney’s opposition to new law banning lessons on gender identity in early-years schools.

Congress shutdown could leave millions of federal worker unpaid

Another year, and another threat of a total government shutdown. Not only could this one leave millions of workers unpaid, but analysts say it could even kick-start a recession. This is the grim assessment of what could happen if action isn’t taken to stop Congress shutting down after 30th September. House Republicans have so far been unable to reach a compromise over budgets, meaning up to 4 million workers could be left without pay. According to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics (quoted in The Mirror), if any shutdown lasts longer than two-three months, it could potentially tip the US into a recession. He added: “A couple weeks, no big deal. A month, then it starts showing up with the economic data. Longer than that, it becomes a real problem and if it’s for the entire quarter, buckle in, it probably means a recession.” Despite unemployment still historically low, economists said a government shutdown combined with an expanding UAW strike and rising inflation and interest rates could spell doom for the wider US economy. Megan Way, an associate professor of economics at Babson College in Massachusetts said: “Any one of these things is not the thing that would tip you into recession, in my opinion, but put them all together, and it’s going to tax the economy.”

Hollywood writers’ strike could be nearing an end

The debilitating Screen Writers Guild of America strike – which has seen movie and TV production grind to a standstill for months – could be coming to an end. According to the BBC, the Writers Guild of America has said “exceptional” and “meaningful gains and protections for writers,” had been presented to them, with members due to have the final say on it. Hollywood writers have been striking in a row over pay, royalties (particularly from streaming services), and the use of artificial intelligence in the industry. Writers have complained that streaming residuals are a fraction of the earnings they would get from a broadcast TV show. The WGA leadership and union members need to agree a three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) before they return to work. The writers’ walkout, which began on 2 May, has cost the US economy around $5bn (£4.08bn), according to an estimate from Milken Institute economist, Kevin Klowden. It finds many related areas of the entertainment industry have been hit by the strike, including caterers, costume suppliers, carpenters and camera operators.

Virtually all hospitality leaders aren’t confident their staff can interact with customers

In a damning verdict on either the state of either their own recruitment or the skills of younger workers, a shocking 83% of retail and hospitality leaders say they don’t have confidence that their staff can interact professionally with customers. This is the major finding of new research by eduMe, which finds employee turnover, customer experience, and sales are the top three challenges facing retail and hospitality businesses today. The research found there was still a tendency to find ‘traditional’ and outdated development methods in these frontline industries. It revealed that 92% of retail/hospitality sector firms still make majority use of face-to-face training, or desktop based learning. It found that 24% of leaders thought better accessibility to training would improve the outcome of HR initiatives, but 62% do not currently embed training into HR systems like Workday or even tools such as Microsoft Teams. Said Jacob Waern, founder and CEO of eduMe: “To see a lack of confidence around customer service and customer experience abilities so keenly felt, especially when 93% of leaders report they are spending considerable time training employees, shows the stark need for a shake up in the methods being used to provide these employees with skills and knowledge.”

Department of Labor dishes out $millions to improve states’ HR technology

The US Department of Labor is to hand out more than $204 million in grants to help 18 state modernize their HR information technology (IT) infrastructure. The grants will allow states to adopt new strategies to upgrade and redesign unemployment insurance programs, better defend against fraud, and make the systems easier to maintain and change. One of the first recipients is The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), which has been awarded $11.25 million to strengthen and modernize its unemployment insurance system. Commenting on the grant, DWD secretary, Amy Pechacek, said: “As part of our ongoing efforts to enhance services, we continue to seek ways we can leverage technology to improve the speed and accuracy of unemployment benefit payments and make the system easier to navigate.” She added: “We look forward to investing these funds in additional efforts to overhaul our state’s decades-old unemployment insurance infrastructure and benefits delivery system.”

Newsweek reveals America’s 100 Most Loved Workplaces list

Newsweek’s annual ‘100 Most Loved Workplaces’ list has been revealed. The list, which recognizes companies for outstanding employee sentiment and satisfaction, saw more than 2 million employees surveyed in organizations ranging in size from 50 staff to more than 100,000. Notable companies on the list include 59th-ranked accountancy firm BDO. Said Cathy Moy, chief people officer at BDO USA: “Everything we do and every decision we make starts with people.” This year, firms at the top of the list were specifically applauded for helping employees meet current financial challenges. No. 1, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, for example, raised frontline wages in all of its markets last year. At No. 2-placed Fairway Independent Mortgages, its employee relief program was awarded more than $96,000 in 2022. Greif (53) and J.J. Keller (74) also offered hardship funds, Goodway Group (65) and Fogelman (79) offered stipends to counter inflation. Research by Best Practice Institute, Newsweek’s partner producing the Most Loved Workplaces list, shows employees are up to four times more likely to be more productive if they love the company they work for.

Employers planning more modest pay rises next year

It’s already approaching that time of the year, where budgets are being set for 2024. And according to data from Mercer’s just-published ‘US Compensation Planning Study’ – employees will likely have to settle for much more modest rises next year. After big rises to cover the cost of living this year, it finds US employers plan to raise their compensation budgets by 3.5% for merit increases for 2024 and 3.9% for their total salary increase budgets for non-unionized employees. The survey also found employers are planning to promote less (8.7% of the employee population), and therefore will allocate less of their budget (1.1%) to promotional increases in 2024. In 2023, employers reported that they promoted 10.3% of their population, allocating 1.2% of their salary budget to do so. Said Lauren Mason, senior principal, career, Mercer: “While preliminary compensation budgets for 2024 are showing a slight decline, they remain well above pre-pandemic levels, reflecting the ongoing tightness of the labor market and low levels of unemployment. However, if the labor market continues to stabilize and inflation cools further as we move towards the end of the year, compensation pressures are likely to continue to decline. This could prompt further reductions in 2024 compensation increase budgets, as employers adjust their strategies to reflect the changing economic landscape.”

This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.