Walt Disney World is experimenting with using iPhones to track some of its custodial workers and direct them to do specific tasks.
Unite Here Local 362, which represents the resort’s janitors, is fighting the move. It has raised issues about the custodians’ loss of seniority in choosing their assignments, potential discipline for employees who lose or damage the phones, and privacy.
“What is the purpose?” said Eric Clinton, the local Unite Here chapter’s president. “Are they trying to determine that a specific worker spends too much time in a certain area? Are they trying to determine that some workers walk faster than others? They haven’t told us. These things are very concerning.”
Disney did not make executives available for an interview. The company said in a statement that “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.”
The new system, called “Custodial of Tomorrow,” begins Sunday as a test of 40 employees in the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland. It is supposed to run through Jan. 14.
Workers who clock in will receive iPhones, which they return at the end of their shifts.
A system of electronic sensors will determine when a restroom needs cleaning or a garbage can needs emptying. A certain number of people entering a bathroom will trigger a search for the nearest available custodian. Sensors will also be tripped when trash cans get to be about three-quarters filled.
“You get an alert — it will say go clean trash can X,” Clinton said. “You’ll be able to zoom in on a map of where that trash can is.”
Such technology has become more common, said Chris Muller, a professor of the practice at Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration.
“Tracking them on the iPhone is kind of a little bit Big Brotherish, but … that’s how they track 18-wheelers now or anybody who’s driving a big truck. They’re GPS located,” he said. “That’s how they know whether they’re pulling off to take their eight-hour breaks.”
Disney already has radio-frequency MagicBands that many guests wear, which function as tickets and FastPasses but can also provide information about visitors’ habits.
“Putting these kinds of sensors on garbage cans and restrooms and the employees is just a natural next step … not only in better utilizing people but enhancing the customer experience so that the place is always clean, which is one of the hallmarks of that park,” said Keenan Yoho, an associate professor at the Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business.
But some say that in recent years, the cleaning quality has declined. Pete Werner, a travel-agency owner who runs a Disney-focused online message board and podcast, has often complained of messy resort restrooms.
“It has boggled my mind the number of times I have seen trash cans so full that you can’t open them or trash being left on trash cans because people couldn’t throw them out,” he said.
Other theme parks might also start using similar technology. A service called Tork EasyCube recently advertised in a theme-park trade publication that it “collects real-time data from connected devices” and “directs cleaning teams to exactly where they are needed.” Representatives from that company could not be reached for comment. Disney is not using that service.
Other companies that have used geolocation include Orlando-based Productivity Apex. The company launched FleetZoo, a computerized system that can assign orders to delivery-truck drivers based on their whereabouts. Sam Fayez, a director with Productivity Apex, said the company will soon finalize a contract with the city of Orlando that would design routes for building inspectors, sometimes using their locations when adjusting schedules.
Fayez described Disney’s experiment as “a smart application of an existing technology.”
Clinton said Disney’s new system was never negotiated with the union, and many issues need to be resolved.
“Most of the employees are very concerned,” Disney custodial worker Juan Alfonseca said. His colleagues feel Disney hasn’t told them enough about issues including repercussions for a worker if phone is damaged or lost, or if there’s a problem figuring out the technology.
One of Unite Here’s complaints is that senior janitors would no longer be able to choose whether they work in restrooms or in Disney’s public areas. To protest, on Halloween about a dozen employees delivered a pumpkin that said “Rest in peace, seniority” to Magic Kingdom vice president Dan Cockerell.
Some custodians prefer street work because they don’t want to clean toilets. Others prefer restrooms because the atmosphere is quieter and they don’t have to lift such heavy garbage cans.