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'Magic United': Disneyland characters vote to unionize

Disney characters lead a parade to celebrate Mickey Mouse's 90th birthday at Disneyland in November 2018.
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Disney characters lead a parade to celebrate Mickey Mouse's 90th birthday at Disneyland in November 2018.

Updated May 18, 2024 at 23:07 PM ET

Turns out, Disneyland is not the happiest place on earth.

At least, it's not for some of the workers who walk around the park as Mickey Mouse and Elsa and Chewbacca and other beloved Disney characters.

In a union election that ended Saturday, the Anaheim, Calif.-based performers voted overwhelmingly to unionize, by a vote of 953 to 258. The employees will be represented by Actors' Equity Association, a union known for representing actors and stage managers on Broadway.

The election was open to some 1,700 employees in the character and parade departments, including those who roam Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park greeting visitors and performing in the daily parades.

The union campaign grew out of the pandemic, when performers started having health and safety concerns around sharing costumes and having physical contact with visitors, including hugs from adoring children.

At Disneyland, fans of a galaxy far, far away are treated to character encounters.
/ Disneyland Resort via Getty Images
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Disneyland Resort via Getty Images
At Disneyland, fans of a galaxy far, far away are treated to character encounters.

Like many other workers in Southern California, the Disney employees also found their base wages — which went from $20 to $24.15 in January — no match for the rising cost of living.

Calling themselves "Magic United," the workers leading the organizing campaign called for higher wages and more reliable schedules, noting that parade performers in particular have trouble getting full-time hours.

Mai Vo, who first got a job at Disneyland at 16 and put herself through college performing as a number of Disney characters, says there's a sense of exhaustion that comes with the job.

"[It] gets really hard to make magic when you're burnt out," she says.

In a statement, Disneyland said, "We support our cast members' right to a confidential vote that recognizes their individual choices," while noting that non-union employees do receive annual raises and paid sick leave aligned with industry standards.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.
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