The Mouse House continues to show why some employees say they work at the “crappiest place on earth” and “for the rat.” The latest Walt Disney Company human resources issue involves the people who play their cartoon characters in the theme parks. Disney introduced a policy two weeks ago that prevents its “cast members,” who portray Goofy, Mickey and other popular characters, from revealing that they are the performers in these roles. However, the cast of characters is fighting back.
The policy prevents 1,200 Disney workers who portray characters from revealing in social or traditional media which costume they wear in the park. The disguises worn while walking around the park and restaurants or appearing in parades vary between those which completely hide the performer within, like Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and Buzz Lightyear, and those in which the performers’ faces show, such as Cinderella and Belle. Obviously, those wearing outfits which show their face cannot hide their identities completely.
The Teamsters union which represents actors who are cast to portray Disney characters in Disney theme parks is challenging the company’s policy preventing the disclosure of roles. They filed a grievance with the company last week.
The Teamsters Local 385 also filed an unfair labor practices complaint on Friday with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaint challenges the policy that prevents the performers from revealing which animated figures they portray, saying that it is an unconstitutional request.
The goofy new Disney policy preventing performers from revealing their roles lists the disciplinary actions which may be taken, such as losing one’s job. A union representative pointed out that many of the performers have already told friends and family what they do for a living, including which characters they portray in the parks, and have posted the information and photos on social media. The information is already out there, and the policy causes confusion in that it does not make it clear how employees are expected to “un-tell” people.
Additionally, the Teamsters local president, Mike Stapleton, commented, “The company doesn’t have the right to control social media postings.” He added that the theme park and entertainment corporation is trying to pretend that everyday people are not in the cartoon character costumes, and that “the Constitution doesn’t extend to the theme park.”
Disney has traditionally maintained a mysterious aura in its parks, and does not allow the public to see behind the scenes, which includes behind the costumes worn by its workers. As such, they have long discouraged the workers who play character roles from revealing themselves in order to maintain the fantasy of the “Magic Kingdom.” They call staff “cast members,” making it clear they are hired to play a role.
The confidentiality of the identity of the person actually playing the role was never a written policy before. The union said that it has come up in contract negotiations in the past, but never was part of any contract. It still reportedly is not in the contract, but the company announced and implemented the policy anyway.
Realistically, today the issue is much bigger issue with the social media and the Internet allowing people to readily search and find the man or woman behind the characters’ masks. Additionally, it make sense that an actor would want to reveal publicly what role they play, whether in a stage production or on Main Street in Disneyland and would need to reveal the information for getting other jobs.
Disney defends the policy preventing its park performers from revealing which roles they play by citing its need to maintain character integrity. However, just like Santa Claus and characters on television shows, at some point it becomes obvious that someone is hired for that role. Keeping the casting completely confidential is a nice thought, but it is Fantasyland to think it is realistic today.
Opinion by Dyanne Weiss
TIME: This Union Is Attacking Disney’s Weirdest Policy
The Florida Times-Union: A Goofy stance? Union objects to Disney warning actors about confidentiality
The Washington Times: Disney World’s confidentiality warning riles actors’ union
Photo Courtesy of Jennie Park’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License