California Disney characters are unionizing decades after Florida peers

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — During 3 years of moving arsenic a parade performer astatine the Disneyland Resort successful Southern California, Zach Elefante ever has had a 2nd aliases 3rd occupation to thief him gain a living.

Unlike nan experiences of his peers astatine Disney’s parks successful Orlando, Florida, wherever location is simply a overmuch smaller talent pool, nan performers who play Mickey Mouse, Goofy and different beloved Disney characters astatine nan California parks aren’t ever provided a accordant activity schedule by nan company.

It’s among nan reasons nan California performers are organizing to beryllium represented by a national now, much than 4 decades aft their Florida counterparts did so.

While Disney asks characteristic performers to beryllium disposable to activity astatine immoderate time, that request isn’t ever rewarded pinch scheduled activity hours, nan California performers said.

“A batch of performers get nan consciousness that if they don’t springiness their afloat availability, we won’t beryllium successful shows … and that will effect different jobs we request to prolong a surviving successful this area,” said Elefante, who lives successful Santa Ana, California.

Earlier this month, nan California characteristic performers and nan national organizing them, Actors’ Equity Association, said they had revenge a petition for national recognition.

It’s a different era and a different national doing nan organizing this clip around, truthful nan California characteristic and parade performers apt will debar some of nan bad blood that nan Disney performers successful Florida person knowledgeable pinch their union, nan International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

It has been a rocky four-decade matrimony successful Florida betwixt nan performers who put nan “magic” successful nan Magic Kingdom and nan Teamsters, a national historically formed for proscription and storage workers which had heavy ties to organized crime until nan precocious 1980s.

Why now for nan California characteristic performers, truthful galore decades aft their Florida counterparts organized? Unlike successful Florida wherever performing arsenic a characteristic often is simply a full-time job, galore of nan characteristic performers successful Southern California person aggregate different gigs, often successful Hollywood movies and TV.

Elefante performs astatine rival Universal Studios Hollywood and useful arsenic a circuit guideline for nan movie studios. In summation to performing successful nan “Fantasmic!” show astatine Disneyland, Chase Thomas useful arsenic nan head of operations for a theatre show and antecedently has had jobs arsenic a ocular effects coordinator and intermezo licensing agent.

Angela Nichols moved to California to beryllium a TV writer and often useful arsenic a writer successful summation to her occupation arsenic an intermezo big astatine Disneyland, wherever she assists nan characteristic performers erstwhile they’re interacting pinch guests.

“Disney really is simply a cornerstone of nan stories we turn up pinch successful our culture. Being capable to watch group immersed successful these stories and unrecorded it retired is magical,” Nichols said. “And erstwhile we’re being supported arsenic formed members and performers, we’re capable to make that happen. We’re conscionable not being group up for occurrence successful nan measurement we request to beryllium astatine this time.”

When galore of their Hollywood gigs dried up because of nan COVID-19 pandemic, and nan caller actors’ and writers’ strikes, nan characteristic performers wanted much accordant scheduling astatine Disneyland erstwhile it reopened aft a yearlong, pandemic-related closure. The pandemic besides made them much alert to wellness and information concerns concerning things for illustration hugging guests aliases having sanitary costumes.

Most of nan much than 35,000 workers astatine nan Disneyland Resort successful Southern California already were unionized, and nan parades and characteristic section members were among nan holdovers.

“A batch of formed members want to do this fulltime and make it work,” Thomas said.

Unlike their Florida counterparts, nan characteristic performers successful California are being organized by a national devoted to performers. As such, Actors’ Equity Association officials understand nan unsocial needs of nan taxable parkland performers successful ways that would beryllium difficult for different unions to grasp.

When location is simply a caller shape show, nan shoes of nan costumes request to beryllium tested to make judge nan performers won’t travel aliases gaffe connected stage. Union representatives make judge “face performers,” whose faces are visible, specified arsenic Cinderella, person nan correct constitution and double cheque that parade dancers person crystal packs disposable to caregiver sore knees.

Unclean costumes are a perennial problem, and it was a apical logic for nan Florida performers wanting to shape pinch nan Teamsters successful nan early 1980s. The different reasons included kids kicking Disney villains for illustration Captain Hook successful nan shins and adults grabbing astatine nan chests of performers playing Mickey Mouse to spot if location was a man aliases female underneath.

Clean costumes were truthful important to nan Florida characteristic performers that much than 2 decades agone nan Teamsters succesfully inserted a statement clause to delegate individual undergarments that nan performers could return location to lavation aft pubic lice and scabies were shared via nan garments.

There ever existed a civilization conflict successful Florida betwixt nan costumed characteristic performers and nan accepted Teamsters national leaders of motortruck drivers and storage workers. The drivers often viewed nan performers arsenic surviving charmed lives, paid to dress up each time arsenic if it were Halloween.

Those tensions came to a caput successful nan precocious 2010s arsenic a caller leader of nan section Teamsters connection successful Orlando began targeting nan costumed characteristic performers for harassment. The characteristic performers pushed backmost and nan conflict went up to James Hoffa, then-head of nan International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who intervened.

In California, Elefante is hopeful national practice will springiness performers a sound successful decisions astir issues including nan larger-than-life costumes, which tin origin semipermanent injuries erstwhile ill-fitted, and nan information of performing successful parades during rain.

“It’s astir having a spot astatine nan array and being a portion of nan speech from nan performers’ perspective,” Elefante said.


Associated Press newsman Amy Taxin successful Orange County, California, contributed to this report.


Mike Schneider’s book, “Mickey and nan Teamsters: A Fight for Fair Unions astatine Disney,” was published successful October by nan University Press of Florida. Follow him connected X, formerly Twitter.