‘The Happiest Place on Earth’? | Disneyland 'characters' file to unionize seeking better pay, safety, and scheduling

Disneyland 'characters' file to unionize seeking better pay, safety, and scheduling

Over two-thirds of Disneyland’s 1,700 performers have signed a petition, allowing the group of ‘Cast Members’ to unionize in pursuit of better pay, safety, and scheduling.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the group who call themselves “Magic United” confirmed they will file with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for union representation.

The performers, who portray Disney characters from Mickey Mouse and Goofy to Darth Vader and Woody at its infamous resorts, had earlier announced their plans to unionize in February 2024.

Since then, volunteers from Magic United and the Actors’ Equity Association (Equity), which will serve as Magic United’s bargaining representative, have gathered signatures from over two-thirds of the 1,700 Cast Members who work as performers at the Disneyland resorts.

This meets the supermajority required for union formation, which is often a challenge for activist groups seeking to unionize. The union would be formed under the roof of Equity.

Read more from us

“The Cast Members who bring the Characters and Parades to life have been non-union since Disneyland Resort opened in the 1950s and have watched other workers in the park unionize all around them,” said Kate Shindle, President of Equity, in the statement. “Just eight weeks after Equity launched a campaign seeking union authorization cards, we have signatures from a supermajority of those eligible.”

Whilst other Cast Members at Disneyland working in retail, food and beverage, make-up, security, and pyrotechnics are already unionized, this has previously not included those who work in the Characters and Parades department.

Moreover, their counterparts who portray the beloved characters of Donald Duck et al at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, have been unionized for decades.

Magic United is seeking “improvements in wages, benefits, scheduling and working conditions,” though the statement notes that the group is “pro-Disney and pro-union.”

“These performers, and the Hosts, Leads and Trainers who create magic alongside them, know that their lives – as well as the Guest experience at Disneyland – can be improved through collective bargaining,” noted Shindle. “They deserve a voice in their workplace, and meaningful negotiations over wages, benefits and working conditions.”

"Make ‘the happiest place on Earth’ a little happier"

The performers are seeking a further pay increase, having seen a 20% pay rise from $20 per hour to $24.15 per hour in January 2024. The minimum wage in California was raised to $20 per hour at the beginning of April 2024, with Disney possibly pre-empting the need to remain competitive on salary.

However, Magic United claims that workers have struggled to obtain health insurance through Disney, and whilst there may be premiums on top of the hourly rate, these vary and can often be as low as $.040 per hour.

Workers have also claimed that even the new wage is not livable in California, and cancellations to paid shifts, including due to bad weather, can be last-minute.

“Maybe things weren’t perfect at the Happiest Place on Earth, because it felt like my colleagues in the department were unhappy, and it didn’t make sense to me,” one worker told CNN, highlighting safety concerns including poorly designed costumes.

Another said that despite many workers feeling a deep connection to Disneyland, they often felt “disposable.”

A Disney spokesperson told CNN that no notice is required when schedule changes are made to protect the safety of visitors or employees, and added that all Disney employees are given multiple channels to report safety concerns including meetings, roundtables, and an anonymous hotline.

But the workers, as do Magic United, hope this development with make create a better Disneyland for all.

“Our goal is to make ‘the happiest place on Earth’ a little happier,” explained Shindle. “We look forward to meeting with their representatives across the bargaining table, and together, making the Disneyland Resort a fairer and safer place to work.”

Cast Members from Magic United have penned a joint letter to the NLRB, outlining hopes to “keep moving forward in collaboration” with Disneyland to improve working conditions.

In the letter, Magic United invited the Walt Disney Company to voluntarily recognize the union but stated it had not had a response yet – but the company did release a statement on Wednesday, stating: “We support our cast members' right to a confidential vote that recognizes their individual choices.”

If the company does not grant recognition voluntarily, it plans to arrange an election with the NLRB in May or June at the resort.

Other collective bargaining units at Disneyland are also pushing for better pay with a coalition of unions representing ride operators, candy makers, and cashiers beginning a round of contract negotitations this week.

The Masters Service Council, representing over 13,000 workers, has a contract with Disney that runs out in June and is seeking an improvement to hourly wages beyond a recent jump from $18 per hour to $19.90 per hour.

“We value our cast members and have a long and positive history of working with the unions that represent them,” said Jessica Good, a Disneyland Resort spokesperson. “We look forward to meeting next week to begin negotiation discussions.”

You are currently previewing this article.

This is the last preview available to you for the next 30 days.

To access more news, features, columns and opinions every day, create a free myGrapevine account.