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Disneyland character performers vote to unionize

More than 1,200 workers who wear costumes at the California theme park have voted to join Actor’s Equity Association to defend their labor rights

Los personajes de Minnie y Mickey, durante un desfile en un parque de atracciones de Disney.
Minnie and Mickey Mouse during a parade at a Disney theme park.
Luis Pablo Beauregard

In a new victory for the unions in the United States, employees who dress up as popular Disney characters and take part in parades at the Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim, California have voted to unionize. The vote corrects one of the anomalies within the company, since this group of workers, about 1,700 people in total, was one of the few within the gigantic corporation that was not organized as a union, despite being one of the most public faces of the entertainment giant.

On Monday afternoon the company had not yet issued a public statement regarding the vote, which took place on Saturday. Some 1,211 workers participated in the process after a campaign that began in February. The vote was meant to endorse including these “cast members,” as the company calls them, in talks at the negotiating table with the company. The workers will now be represented by Actor’s Equity Association, an organization with 51,000 members, mainly actors and theater professionals.

According to the unofficial vote count, which still needs to be certified, 79% voted in favor of joining the union, with 953 cast members favoring unionization and 258 opposed. The union has described it as a “landslide victory.”

“These workers are on the front lines of the Guest experience; they’re the human beings who create lifelong memories when your kids hug a character, or when your family watches a parade roll by the castle. The next step will be to collaborate with them about improving health & safety, wages, benefits, working conditions and job security,” said Actors’ Equity Association President Kate Shindle in a statement.

The union believes it has a good relationship with The Walt Disney Company. Equity already represents around 800 cast members at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It also defends the rights of the casts in the company’s plays on Broadway.

What follows is Equity's first negotiation with Disneyland, the park that opened its doors in 1955 in the city of Anaheim, California. With more than 25 million visitors a year, it is one of the most visited for the company in the world, behind those in Florida.

The vote comes months after company executives pointed to amusement parks as the main business of the future in times of uncertainty due to the rapid transformation of the audiovisual industry and streaming entertainment. Last September, CEO Bob Iger announced an investment of $60 billion in Disney resorts in the United States and around the world to attract more public.

A recent survey by San Francisco State University found that 41% of California workers have experienced at least one serious workplace violation in the past year. These include working extra hours without extra pay, not receiving even the minimum wage ($16 an hour, or $20 for fast food restaurant workers), and not getting paid for sick days.

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