“Cinderella Lives in Her Car”, Disney Leaves Performers Homeless

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Mickey mouse leading the "Magic Happens" parade at Disneyland Park

Credit: Disney

Over the recent months, Disneyland performers have been working to unionize due to poor working conditions that have presented many cast members with physical ailments that do not see to stop, all while being paid enough to live in their cars successfully.

Minnie Mouse Magic Happens Parade Disneyland
Credit: Inside the Magic/Kurt Schmidt

Most recently, it was announced that Disneyland Resort character performers in Anaheim, California, overwhelmingly voted in favor of joining the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) in a recent National Labor Relations Board election. The results, announced on Sunday, mark a significant development for the theme park’s labor landscape.

The AEA, which already represents performers and stage managers at Walt Disney World in Florida, will now extend its membership to over 1,700 Disneyland character and parade department employees. The final vote count saw 953 cast members in favor of unionization, compared to 258 against.

“This is an incredible victory, and we appreciate all the support over the past several weeks,” said Kate Shindle, AEA President, in a statement. “These cast members are both pro-union and pro-Disney, and they’re looking forward to meeting with their employer across the bargaining table.”

Disney has a one-week window to file any challenges to the election results before they are officially certified by the NLRB.

magic happens Disneyland parade
Credit: Disney

“While voting is complete, there are still steps in the process prior to the election being certified, so it’s premature for the company to comment on the results,” the company stated. “Whatever the outcome, we respect that our cast members had the opportunity to have their voices heard.”

The newly formed union encompasses employees who portray Disney characters in shows, restaurants, and throughout the park, along with their trainers. The employee-led unionization effort, known as Magic United, advocated for higher wages, fairer scheduling practices, and improved workplace safety measures.

“The goal was ‘to make the happiest place on Earth’ a little happier,'” stated Magic United when filing for the election in April. “Magic doesn’t pay our rent. We must be able to live comfortably in the community where we work.”

Traditionally, the AEA represents stage actors and managers. This development marks an expansion of the union’s reach into the theme park character performer industry.

While the progress of unionizing is a good step forward, once a union is formed, that union will still have to go up against Disney to fight for the needs of the cast members, which is a much larger battle.

Photo Credit: Disney Parks

More Perfect Union recently released a clip from Magic United which had multiple performers speak out on the issues that they were facing, which seem to be issues that have been spanning decades as one of the performers in the video detailed that her mother was also a performer for 10 years.

But ended up having to quit as the parade costume she had to wear would dig into her side, and Disney refused to allow her to wear a leotard underneath to stop the costume from poking into her skin.

NEW: Disneyland workers are exposing the reality of their jobs.

“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.”

Today they start voting on a union to bring the magic back.

In the video, we hear from three performers, who are speaking out on issues that pertain to themselves, and other cast members. We hear of a plethora of issues including cast members living in cars, living hours away to try to afford rent with multiple roommates, and some not being able to pay their rent. Overall, the cost of living does not seem to add up for the performers. 

According to one commenter on the post, the average salary for performers at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park is $18 per hour. Face characters (characters who show their faces) make $24.15 per hour and an extra $4.75 if they perform on-stage. With the median rent in Anaheim averaging around $2,600 a month, many performers are struggling.

Loki character at Disneyland Resort's Avengers Campus
Credit: Disney

Many performers are seen to have suffered physical ailments from their costumes and continue to do so on a daily basis.

Some costumes were described as requiring one to stick one’s arm through fiberglass to get into them. Another performer, who likely played Mantis from Guardians of the Galaxy in Avengers Campus, ended up having stained eyes due to the 18 mm black contacts she had to wear to look like the character. This was all a part of her three-hour hair and makeup routine that took place before her seven-hour shift.

Another issue is the hours that these performers are forced to work. One employee said that she had to work six days a week, for six days straight, just to earn one shift off. Now that Disneyland Forward got approved with a $2.5 billion budget, many performers are wondering what portion will go to help them.

cinderella ready for a new Disneyland after hours event, Princess nite
Credit: Disney Parks Blog

Performers have recently been speaking out on the hardships of the job, with many discussing how the heavy costumes are painful and that your job is always at risk depending on your weight, especially when it comes to the princess performers — many of which have opened up and discussed the eating disorders that the job has caused.

Even posting photos to social media can end up leaving you without a job, as we recently saw with a performer who would most often portray Snow White at Walt Disney World.

Overall, while the vote to unionize was successful, the next step is negotiations, which will be much more difficult.

Recently, multiple Disney World unions fought against Disney for higher hourly wages.

After approximately eight months of negotiations, Disney World and around 45,000 theme park workers have agreed to a $3-an-hour pay increase by the end of 2023, with wages rising by approximately 37% by 2026.

Walt Disney World workers immediately saw their minimum wage increase to $17 an hour, which then rose to $18 an hour by the end of 2023. Over the next three years, workers will receive additional increases ranging from $2.50 to $5.60 per hour.

Do you stand with Magic United? Let us know in the comment section below!

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