Airing Disney’s Dirty Laundry


Once upon a time, Cinderella was forced to work grueling hours without pay for her evil stepmother. Today, she is protected from unfair management courtesy of a strong union contract negotiated by the Teamsters.

Donna-Lynne Dalton, Recording Secretary and Business Agent of Local 385 in Orlando, Fla., knows firsthand how hard it can be for the Cinderellas of the world (i.e., Walt Disney World) and how important it is for them to have strong representation on the job. Before becoming a business agent she spent years starring as a Disney character performer.

Recently, three members of Local 385 learned the importance of having a Teamster contract at Disney, specifically a provision spearheaded by Dalton in response to her own personal experience as a character performer. But, like all good Disney underdogs, the workers would first have to overcome some difficult odds.

It all began on a June afternoon when Disney Teamsters Drew Pearson, Matthew Warfield and Raymond “Doug” Biederman arrived at the stage of the “Festival of The Lion King” show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and found their spandex unitards tainted by sweaty costumes pieces from other performers. Knowing their contractual rights, the performers declined to perform in the soiled wardrobe, asking management to provide them with clean garments to wear for the high-energy musical. After management failed to resolve the situation, the performers exercised their union rights by refusing to don the soiled costumes on stage. As a result, the show was canceled and the three workers were fired without just cause.

Dalton, who represents more than 1,000 character performers at Disney, took immediate action, assisting the three fired Disney performers throughout the grievance process.

“To be unexpectedly ripped away from a job I love broke my heart. But then to be immediately embraced and protected by my family at Local 385 gave me the courage I needed to make it through this process and see it through till the end,” said Warfield, a character performer at Disney since 2003.

“From the very beginning, Donna-Lynne had our backs and always kept our best interests in mind. She took on our grievance with fire and drive and never gave up.”

A Small World After All

After Disney’s legal team claimed the workers carried out an unauthorized work stoppage, Local 385 took their case to a federal arbitrator. In true storybook fashion, the workers’ defense would come from Dalton’s trials at Disney more than a decade earlier.

While performing in the “Aladdin’s Royal Caravan” parade, Dalton contracted ringworm from a pair of contaminated tights. Then an assistant business agent, she responded by taking her case to the bargaining table, successfully leading the push to add a clean-costume provision to the agreement with Disney.

“For years, performers had been dealing with scabies, rashes and other infections from wearing improperly cleaned costumes. The only way to stop it was by negotiating appropriate safety standards into the contract,” Dalton said.

In late April, a federal arbitrator ruled in favor of the Teamsters, finding Walt Disney World in violation of the clean-costume provision and ordering full reinstatement of the three workers. Pearson, Warfield and Biederman returned to the stage in May with full back pay and a clean wardrobe.