Goofy labour relations complaint for Disney

Policy that muzzles actors who play Mickey and friends challenged.

0 June 8, 2015
by Associated Press

Minney and Mickey at Hong Kong Disneyland. Photo: PoonKaMing

Minney and Mickey at Hong Kong Disneyland.
Photo: PoonKaMing

ORLANDO, Fla. — Who’s underneath that Mickey Mouse mask? Walt Disney World doesn’t want you to know, and the actors who play Disney characters at the theme parks say that’s a violation of their constitutional rights.

A union representing actors who portray Mickey, Goofy and other characters filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, challenging a policy that it says prevents the performers from revealing which animated figures they portray.

Teamsters Local 385 said in the complaint that Disney was committing an unfair labour practice. A grievance was filed last week with the company. The two-week-old written policy prevents actors from publicly revealing in social media or traditional media which characters they play, according to the union.

Violations could lead to disciplinary action including firing, said Donna-Lynne Dalton, recording secretary for the Teamsters local. So far, she said, none of the 1,200 character actors at Walt Disney World have faced any disciplinary action.

“The performers are very concerned because you can’t un-tell somebody something,” Dalton said. “They have family and friends that already know this and have pictures of themselves in their performing roles. It’s out there.”

The confidentiality policy had been a subject of negotiations during past contract talks, but it never made it into a contract, union officials said.

“The company doesn’t have the right to control social media postings,” said Mike Stapleton, president of the Teamsters local. “Suddenly the company wants to pretend there aren’t people behind those costumes and the Constitution doesn’t extend to the theme park.”

Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler said the company has always expected the performers not to reveal the actors behind the characters.

“We’re proud of the role characters play in guest experience,” Wahler said. “This is in line with our longstanding expectation for cast members to uphold character integrity.”

Disney has always discouraged actors from revealing who is behind the costume in order to preserve the fantasy peddled in its theme parks, but it has never before been a written policy, union officials said.

Dalton said performers may need to share which Disney character they’ve played in order to get acting jobs elsewhere, but they also respect the idea of keeping the “integrity” of the characters they play. That means not showing up in costume outside the theme parks or revealing to children that they’re a performer who plays Minnie Mouse.

“I believe in character integrity and not destroying the magic, but these are performers,” Dalton said. “A performer who plays Santa Claus and wants work, he goes out there and says, ‘I played Santa Claus.”’


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