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Disneyland characters, parade performers just won a 'landslide' union victory; Here's what they're fighting for

After years of campaigning, Disneyland Resort parade dancers and characters are one step closer to union representation.

Disneyland characters, parade performers just won a 'landslide' union victory; Here's what they're fighting for
Disneyland Resort cast members celebrate historic landslide vote to unionize as Magic United, a unit of the Actors Equity Association. Courtesy photo.

After years of campaigning, Disneyland’s performers — including those costumed as Mickey Mouse and friends and the dancers in the park’s daily parades — voted to form a union over the weekend.

The election, open to some 1,700 workers, was declared a “landslide victory” Saturday by an unofficial vote of 953 to 258. The Actors Equity Association will represent character actors and other performers of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park as Magic United.

If management doesn’t challenge the election, the National Labor Relations Board could certify the results within a week. Once that happens, Equity President Kate Shindle says the union will meet with the Walt Disney Company to begin the process of negotiating a contract.

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The union is gearing up to fight for higher wages that match the rising cost of living, improved health and safety condition, job security and stronger benefits.

Disney management has not responded to a request for comment.

While thousands of their park colleagues in hospitality, stage performance departments, and more are unionized, character actors and parade performers have long gone without representation.

"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,” Shindle said in a statement.

Equity also represents performers and stage managers at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

A push for unionization began during the height of the pandemic and collected more interest among workers in the fall of 2022 when Disney took away COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Then, characters raised concerns over frequent contact with guests, specifically children, who eagerly await an opportunity to meet their favorite character.

Disney has come under fire in recent years for underpaying its workers, who have struggled to afford the rising cost of housing in Southern California. Many workers also commute from Long Beach or much further away. Others have reported living in their cars or with several roommates.

Performers and actors currently earn a base pay of $24.15 per hour.

“You have to drive maybe an hour and a half, two hours home to be able to live with three roommates and then turn around eight hours later and drive back because you’ve been scheduled a shift,” Adam Hefner, a superhero performer, said last week in a video published by More Perfect Union.

Workers say they aren’t fairly compensated for laborious performances and often painful costumes that they endure for long, sometimes back-to-back shifts. Some character actors have reported injuries, caused by unruly guests or small children who have twisted headpieces or pulled at their costumes.

“There really isn’t any incentive, financially, to be able to put your body at risk and create the sort of performance that is expected of you while living in your car because you can’t pay rent,” Hefner said.

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Character performer Mai Vao explained in the video that she had to wear black contact lenses, which created a grey stain around her inner iris.

Courtney Griffith, a parade performer said her costume required her to wear a giant cape that pulled heavily on her shoulders. She sustained an injury, which she said created the type of pain “where you instantly start crying.”

“The magic starts to fade away and you’re just left with not being able to pay rent, permanent injuries, and management who doesn’t value or respect you,” Griffith said.

Watch the full video here.

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