The Price of Wonderland: Homeless Disney Worker Dies in Car
A former Disney employee urges workers to fight for their rights and remember her co-worker Yeweinisht Mesfin who died homeless in her car.
March 04, 2018
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The following was originally posted on Facebook by a former Disney employee about her time at Disney and the death of her coworker. It was republished with her permission.
It was sometime around October 2013 that I met this woman you see in the photo. Her name was Yeweinisht Mesfin, AKA “Weiny.” The first interaction I had with her was her asking me if I wanted a slice of her apple that she was having for lunch. From that day on, I saw her every day and she became one of my closest coworkers at Disney.
I started my journey at the Walt Disney company in Anaheim on February 18, 2012, as a full-time custodial employee making around $10,000 a year in income. A single mom of two, stuck living with family struggling to make enough to live, but making "too much" to qualify for any government assistance. Soon after my first year working "full time" (30 hours a week), I transferred over to third shift.
I started at around $10.50 working for the mouse in 2012 – 75 cents more when I spent my days digging through recycle bin bags separating the plastics and aluminum cans. A dollar more when I was maintaining restrooms.
I spent my kids’ birthdays at Disney: Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day and Eve – not celebrating, but working. I missed out on seeing my kids open Christmas presents in the morning because I was pulling trash down in Buena Vista street. I missed my kids’ open school house because I was scrubbing toilets in Paradise Pier. I missed watching my kids grow up to make your Saturday, Sunday and holidays extra special.
Working for a $270 check a week – $260 when union dues where taken out and $240 when I started paying for Disney’s insurance plan. Every week my check looked somewhat the same.
Once I transferred over to third shift (graveyard 11:30 pm to 8:00 am), my yearly income grew to about $12,000. Never more than that. Meanwhile, I watched the prices on tickets and food go up. I watched new areas open up, new entertainment come and go. I watched employees come and go. Sometimes it made me sad, other times it made me happy.
I grew close with a lot of people working for this company and I can say that if it wasn’t for them, I would have never stayed as long as I did working for Disney.
Now let’s go back to this woman you see in the picture. Like I said, I met her in October 2013. Carsland was her home. You could find her in that land working from 11:30 pm to 8 am, six days a week. She always smiled and greeted you with a “hello.” Restrooms were her major.
The first month working with her in restrooms was hard. She had her own ways of doing things and as soon as I got to know her I knew what she liked and what she didn’t. She was good at her job and never once did I hear her complain about her job or her pay.
Everyday she had a pear or apple for lunch and occasionally a muffin. Sometimes she’d buy me lunch and refuse to have me pay her back. So I would secretly pay for her muffins or lunch whenever I saw her walk into the cafe. "No darling! It’s OK," was her reply whenever the lunch lady would tell her that her meal was paid for. She would then come to me and thank me but the next day would beat me and secretly buy me lunch. She was like that with everyone, not just me. If you had a birthday she would chip in and help buy you a cake. Because that was the type of person she was. She was a kind person who was loved by everyone.
Throughout my years working for Disney, I would always hear people complain about the job and the pay. It never took too much of my time focusing on it because a job is a job. To me it was helping me put something on the table even if it was a little.
November 2016: Weiny goes missing right after Thanksgiving weekend. Working for almost five years for this company now, I was used to seeing people come and go. Some went and just never came back. Sometimes you saw it coming and sometimes you just didn’t. I wasn’t ready for her to go and I never thought I’d see her go.
It took about a month for us to find her. It took endless messages, Facebook shares, phone calls and driving around. All it took was a message from her cousin that Wednesday morning in December. "We found Her. She is passed. Thank you for all that you did" was what it read. My heart dropped and I wanted to just disappear. I felt like what I did wasn’t enough. I felt like I was to blame.
Soon enough I found out more things about my friend, Weiny. I found out she was found in her car in a gym parking lot after suffering a heart attack. She sat in her car for almost a whole month waiting for someone to find her. Why? Because she lived in her car and that gym parking lot was her home. She would use the gym to shower and use the restroom.
She didn’t have enough money to get her own place and my heart broke because all she did was give and give. Never once did she complain. But behind that smile and "good morning, darling" lived a whole different person. A woman struggling and working eight hours shifts for six days for a company that didn’t even bother helping with flower arrangements. For a company that took and took from her and terminated her on the spot after her third no call, no show. A company that asked for her costumes back as soon as possible so they can give them to the next re-hire.
Someone out there on third shift at Disney now wears my Weiny’s beanie, her sweater, shirts and pants. Someone out there is about to give as much as Weiny did for a company that refuses to pay the employees an affordable living wage.
The complaints finally got to me and I opened my eyes. I saw what everyone was saying since day one. I fell into this depression and had to leave the company. It was too much for me to work for a company that didn’t care for their employees as much as they say they do.
I’ve seen a lot of posts and news articles about Disney and the employees asking for a raise and I’m happy that word has finally spread out. It’s been almost a year since I left Disney and I can say I’m doing much better now. I read an article about Disney employees making around $34,000 a year and I laughed because I could never make that much working two complete years for Disney. It just amazes me that a company so big can’t afford to pay their employees a better living wage.
So Bob Iger, if you happen to read my post, I just want to say: give the people what they want. Don’t make it harder on them. Take a pay cut for a year or two if you’re serious and want to help your employees. They are the ones missing dinners with family. Holidays, birthdays and special occasions. They deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly on a daily basis. These are people that know the parks like the back of their hands. Listen to them.
And to my Disney employees, keep fighting this fight. The time has come. It’s time to rebel.
So Disney, save those hot dogs and Mickey ice cream bars and replace them with dollar bills. Give them a Christmas bonus instead of a Christmas headache with blocked out dates. Give your employees better pay.