Disneyland Character Workers Look to Unionize With Actors’ Equity

A group of 1,700 performers who play characters and cheer and dance in parades at Disneyland in California announced their intent Tuesday to unionize with Actors’ Equity.

The group, which includes performers who conduct meet and greets in the park and appear in character dining experiences, as well as the hosts and trainers that support them, are asking for increased wages, greater transparency on scheduling and rehiring decisions and addressing concerns about safe and sanitary workplace conditions.

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Calling themselves “Magic United,” the group has already begun circulating union authorization cards and will aim for voluntary recognition from Disney Resort Entertainment. If that recognition is not granted, Equity will file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board with the goal of being granted an election.

Both Disneyland and Disney World in Florida already have a high amount of unionization among their workers, with Equity representing the performers in the shows at Disney World since 1990. Due to timing and varying organizing efforts, the actors who play characters at Disney World are represented by the Teamsters. The cast members who work in the characters and parades departments at Disneyland are one of the rare non-unionized groups (performers in the shows there are represented by the  American Guild of Variety Artists).

Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity, said talks of organizing this group began as the cast members emerged from the pandemic and were concerned about issues such as audience interaction. Some organizers then approached Actors’ Equity, which represents 51,000 stage managers and actors, primarily in theaters, who felt that they had experience dealing with similar issues.

“There are things that have been explained to me that are issues or concerns at Disneyland that sound very familiar,” Shindle said. “Making sure that costumes are cleaned between the time one person takes them off and another person puts them on is something we deal with all over the place in traditional brick and mortar theaters and outdoor theaters.”

Actors’ Equity has also expanded its organizing efforts to include planetarium lecturers and strippers at a club in Los Angeles. Shindle noted that “hundreds” of cast members at Disneyland have already signed union authorization cards.

“We chose Actors’ Equity Association as our union because we’ve seen how well they work with Disney in Florida, on Broadway and on tour. Our Walt Disney World colleagues exemplify how you can be pro-Disney and pro-union at the same time. Furthermore, the vast majority of our park colleagues here in Anaheim already have union representation. It’s a win/win: when we can speak with a collective voice, we can have a clearer, more productive conversation with our employer. Ultimately this will result in a better experience for all – Cast Members, managers and more importantly, our Guests,” the leaders of Magic United said in a statement.

“We believe that our Cast Members deserve to have all the facts and the right to a confidential vote that recognizes their individual choices,” Disneyland officials said in a statement.

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