Disneyland character and parade performers in California vote to join labor union

ANAHEIM, California — Disneyland performers who bring Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and other beloved characters to life at the Southern California resort opted to unionize after a three-day vote culminating Saturday.

The Actors’ Equity Association union said in a statement Saturday that cast members from the parade and character departments at Disney’s Los Angeles-area theme parks voted by a wide margin in favor of the union as a bargaining agent for the group of about 1,700 employees.

An association website that tracked voting among cast members indicated that 78.7% (953 votes) were in favor and 21.3% (258 votes) were against.

“They say Disneyland is ‘the place where dreams come true,’ and for the Disney Cast Members who worked to organize a union, today their dream came true,” Kate Shindle, president of the Actors’ Equity Association, said Saturday evening in a statement.

Shindle called the workers the “front lines” of the Disneyland guest experience. The association and cast members will discuss improvements in health and safety, wages, benefits, working conditions and job security before meeting with representatives of the Walt Disney Company about negotiating workforce priorities in a contract, she said.

The union already represents theater artists at Disney’s parks in Florida.

Barring any election challenges, the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board will certify the results within a week, the association said.

The NLRB did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking confirmation or additional information about the vote.

The election took place on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday in Anaheim, California, after workers filed cards earlier this year to form the unit called “Magic United.”

Parade and character workers who promoted union activities said they are happy to help create a magical experience at Disneyland, but grew concerned when they were asked to resume hugging visitors after returning to work during the coronavirus pandemic. They said they also suffer injuries from complex costumes and erratic schedules.

Most of the more than 35,000 employees at the Disneyland Resort, including cleaning crews, pyrotechnics specialists and security personnel, are already unionized. The resort includes Disneyland, Walt Disney Co.’s oldest theme park, as well as Disney California Adventure and the Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment center in Anaheim.

In recent years, Disney has faced accusations that it is not paying its Southern California workers, who face exorbitant housing costs and often have to travel long distances or cram into small homes, a living wage. Parade performers and character actors earn a base salary of $24.15 per hour, up from $20 before January, with incentives for various roles.

Union membership has been in decline in the United States for decades, but organizations have seen growing public support in recent years during high-profile contract negotiations involving Hollywood studios and hotels in Las Vegas. The NLRB, which protects workers’ right to organize, reported more than 2,500 applications for union representation in fiscal year 2023, the most in eight years.

The effort to organize character and parade performers in California came more than 40 years after those who play Mickey, Goofy and Donald Duck in Florida were organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a union traditionally known for representing transportation workers.

At the time, Florida performers complained about dirty costumes and mistreatment by guests, including children kicking Disney villains like Captain Hook in the shins.