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Leon Kaye headshot

Walt Disney World's Trashcan GPS Alerts Cause Employee Angst

By Leon Kaye

No guest wants to encounter overflowing garbage cans at any venue, whether they are at place such as a large shopping complex or resort. Dirty restrooms are also a no-no, and those charts you see on the inside of doors that track cleaning times are not necessarily enough to keep such a place in order. Technology, therefore, is the perfect solution for any large business to keep the facilities clean and spotless and prevent those trash cans from spilling over. All a company has to do is to place sensors on garbage cans, send automated reminders to custodial workers' smartphones so that they will check and clean those powder rooms - and the closest employee can attend to that task right away.

Well, a pilot program to that effect is currently underway at Walt Disney World Resort outside of Orlando, Florida. And custodial employees are not having it, pitting an unusual fight between labor and management.

The futuristic system, called “Custodial of Tomorrow,” launched last week in, of all places, the theme park’s Tomorrowland. As they clock into work, custodians are handed an iPhone that tracks their location during their shifts. As trash cans need new liners, bathrooms need cleaning or a random mess in Disney World’s public areas need attention, messages will be automatically sent to the closest employee so that such tasks can be completed.

But according to Unite Here Local 362, these employee’s union, the use of such technology opens a can of worms. In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, custodial workers said they were worried that they could lose seniority when it comes time to select their preferred assignments. Employees were also concerned about repercussions if the iPhones are lost or damaged. In addition, Local 362 complained that the system was rolled out by Disney World’s management without any discussion. Then, of course, there are the ominous fears of “big brother technology” tracking an employee’s every single move.

The dispute at Disney World is yet another example what companies encounter as they balance the benefits of using GPS technology with potential privacy risks. As the Washington Post reported last year, more companies are using smartphone apps to track employees during their working hours. That may make sense for companies with a large disbursed workforce, especially for sales teams that often work out in the field. The ethics become more murky, however, when employees find out that they could also be monitored when they are off the clock – as in the case of a Central California sales executive who was fired after she deleted such an app from her phone after realizing that she was being monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Some may see the use of this technology as not a big deal at all, especially those who are apt to check in or geolocate on Facebook or Instagram. For some industries, smartphone tracking is now a fact of life. GPS is used by many trucking companies to ensure that their drivers are taking rest breaks as mandated by law. More hotels are using GPS systems to follow towels and linens on their property to not only ensure steady supplies of these items, but also to track towels stolen by guests.

For Disney World’s custodial employees, however, the overall concern is the loss of job autonomy, as their union’s contract with Disney allows them to focus on the type of work they prefer the most. Disney counters that more guests in recent years had complained about cleanliness; hence this tracking system is designed to complete custodial tasks quickly and seamlessly. The program, which includes 40 employees, is scheduled to run until January 19.

Image credit: Jason Mrachina/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye