Disneyland Characters in California Vote to Unionize to Improve Wages and Work Conditions

By: Kate Row | Published: Jun 02, 2024

The characters of Disneyland Anaheim, California have voted to unionize and join the Actors’ Equity Association to defend their labor rights. 

1,700 workers have voted on whether to unionize. They believe they deserve the employment benefits a union gets. Other employees at Disney, such as make-up artists, retail, food service, and security all are part of a union. It is only the characters who are not.

How Many Votes?

After 1,700 characters voted, how many were actually for unionization and how many were against it?

An aerial view of Disneyland in 2004.

Source: Wikipedia

With 1,700 votes, 953 of those votes were for unionization. This was said to be a “landslide victory” since only 258 were approved for the vote. This means that soon, characters like the Disney princesses, princes, and all the others will get the benefits they so deserve.

Stage Actors Union

‘Equity’, the Actors’ Equity Association, is the American labor union that represent over 50,000 professional Actors and also Stage Managers.

Alice and characters from her movie host "Disneyland Musical Chairs" at Coca-Cola Refreshment Corner, accompanied by a ragtime pianist.

Source: gruntzooki/Wikipedia

This association was founded in 1913, in New York, to keep working conditions as they should be, wages and benefits for the workers. They also represent singers and dancers. They actively keep the entertainment workers with good benefits, health care, and pension plans they wouldn’t otherwise have.

What’s to Come?

For the character cast members the next part of starting a union is waiting for their company to discuss matters with the union organizer.

The Alameda Avenue entrance to the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. This was taken just after a major renovation in summer 2016, in which the dated tropical pastels of the gateway arch were replaced with a more conservative orange-and-black color scheme and Mickey Mouse was added to the arch.

Source: Coolcaesar/Wikipedia

Since the characters won the vote to unionize, there will be ongoing discussions about what benefits and how much to give to the employees. The negotiation can take a while but the companies need to come up with the best solution for their employees.

The Results

Although the character actors have technically won the vote, there are still more decisions for the people involved to come.

Brandon Tynan’s arms raised during a performance in support of the Actors' Equity strike of 1919.

Source: Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons

The company still needs to accept and Equity still to negotiate what benefits the actors should have. Unfortunately, these sorts of things take time, but that only means they are being sorted out for the better and have still won the vote.

Their New Benefits

You may be wondering what benefits the characters will be getting. It’s a lot more than they previously had without a union.

Main Street at Disneyland, as seen from a horseless carriage.

Source: Elf/Wikipedia

They may be gaining benefits, health insurance, pension plans, work rules, and sick pay. They could also be having contracted vacation days they did not previously have and a bonding agreement for salaries. There will be decisions on what benefits they get, and as with every union, they aren’t all the same.


Disney's Comments

Although Disney has many parks and businesses across the globe, they have commented the employees of their California theme park.

Walt Disney introduces each of the Seven Dwarfs in a scene from the original 1937 Snow White theatrical trailer.

Source: Unknown Author/Wikipedia

A Disneyland spokesperson, Jessica Good, emailed a statement saying that there are still some processes the company needs to take so they are not providing any results. Despite the outcome, the company has said they feel happy that their workers have a voice they have used to speak out.


Cast Members' History

Cast members at Disneyland aren’t just the characters but anyone who works in the theme parks. Walt Disney used the term ‘cast member’ himself to add even more theatrics to his parks.

Maleficent, the Queen of Hearts, and Captain Hook at Disneyland not-so-scary Halloween party.

Source: Leigh Caldwell/Wikimedia Commons

Every cast member has a pin on their uniform to signify who they are. They are all in some form of character to keep the magic of Disney alive, even when visitors are just buying some food!


What Does a Disney Character Do?

The difference between a Disneyland cast member and characters is very simple. A character is dressed in a costume of a Disney movie role, always playing the part. A cast member is anyone who works within the parks.

Princesses, Jasmine, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Belle on stage at the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney resort.

Source: matanya/Wikimedia Commons

The characters stay dressed and will always be playing the part of which one they are dressed as. They are live actors all day. They take pictures and sign autographs. These employees make Disney unique, keeping the magic all around the parks.


How to Become a Character

Being a character is the same as being an actor, but instead of scenes, they are always improvising. It is some people’s dreams to be working as one in Disneyland.

Snow White, The Prince, Ariel, Prince Eric, Tiana, Prince Navene, Rapunzel, Flynn Rider, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Prince Phillip, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Aladdin, Jasmine, Belle, the Beast (before returning to form as Prince Adam).

Source: mydisneyadventures/Wikimedia Commons

To become a character you would need to look out for auditions and casting calls posted on the Disney website. Headshots and even videos of your singing abilities are needed, and it helps to have a full resume. So while you are waiting for casting calls, it’s best to keep looking for other acting roles to help fill your CV.


Other Professions That Want to Be Unionized

There are many other companies with employees who want to be unionized. Some of these companies have easily given them and been helpful, whilst others have not.

protesters with hands in the air

Source: Freepik

These include extremely famous companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Trader Joe’s, and Starbucks. Other companies have given their employees a union and created a positive space, which are Microsoft, Ben and Jerry’s, and New Fyler.


How to Get Unionized

The processes to get unionized can be a long and complicated process and there’s a chance it may not even happen. However, there are things you can do to get the ball rolling.

Wisconsin Union Protest Signs.

Source: Patrick Finnegan/Wikimedia Commons

The first place to start is by talking to your co-workers, and see how they feel. Then talking to a union organizer is the way to go. You should also learn your rights as an employee, to know what you deserve. Voting is the major part of starting a union, you’ll need to make sure you have the majority or it won’t go anywhere. Then negotiating your contacts is the final step to better benefits!