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Disneyland’s Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy want to join a union

Disney characters stand onstage at the 2022 Disney Legends Awards during Disney's D23 Expo in Anaheim, California.
Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/FILE
Disney characters stand onstage at the 2022 Disney Legends Awards during Disney's D23 Expo in Anaheim, California.

By Chris Isidore, CNN

New York (CNN) — Disneyland employees who perform as various Disney characters at the theme park are seeking to join the Actor’s Equity Association, which represents everything from actors on Broadway to strippers in Los Angeles.

The union is seeking to represent the 1,700 Disneyland employees in the characters and parades departments at the park. It said after three days of collecting cards signed by employees, it already has more than the 30% support needed to file for a representation vote with the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees such elections. But it said it is waiting until it has the support of at least 60% before filing for such a vote or seeking voluntary recognition of the union by Disney.

Performers doing the same work at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, are already in a union and have been for years. And until recently the Disney World performers were paid more than their Disneyland counterparts, according to the union.

The union contract reached between a coalition of unions and management at Disney World last year pays the performers a minimum hourly wage that ranges from $21.30 to $23.00, according to the union. The Disneyland performers had been getting $20 an hour until the union organizing drive began late last year. The minimum pay went up to $24.15 an hour at the end of last year, according to the union.

But the cost of living is significantly greater in Orange County, California, where Disneyland is located, than in Orlando. According to data from the Council for Community and Economic Research, the cost of living is 50% greater in Orange County, California. Housing costs, which are more than twice as expensive, are the primary reason, but prices are higher across multiple categories.

There are more than 21,000 Disneyland employees, who are referred to as cast members by the company, who are represented by more than a dozen unions. Those unionized jobs include everything from retail and food service workers to security guards, hair and make-up artists and pyrotechnic workers. But not the performers who dress up as characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy and interact with visitors.

“They love working at Disneyland. That doesn’t mean they don’t need enough money to live on,” Kate Shindle, president of Actor’s Equity, told CNN. The 51,000-member union is 111 years old, making it one of the oldest American unions outside of railroads.

“Everybody recognizes that Disneyland is a special place, she added. “But magic alone doesn’t pay the rent.”

The union already represents some of the Disney World performers.

The company had only limited comment on the organizing effort.

“We believe that our cast members deserve to have all the facts and the right to a confidential vote that recognizes their individual choices,” Disney said in a statement.

Disney has struggled recently, with continued losses in its streaming service, layoffs and other cost cutting efforts, questions about the future of its various media properties, and activist investor Nelson Peltz trying to win two seats on Disney’s board.

But its domestic parks and experiences unit is the most profitable part of the company, producing revenue of $6.3 billion in the last three months of 2023, up 4% from a year earlier, and operating income of $2.1 billion, down 2% from a year earlier. That profit represented more than half of the overall operating income of $3.9 billion for the quarter.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the percentage of current support for a union representation vote. It is now above 30%.

– CNN’s Samantha Delouya contributed to this report

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