Federal Arbitrator Orders Reinstatement of “Lion King” Performers, Awards Full Back Pay
(Orlando, Fla.)—A federal arbitrator has ruled in favor of three character performers who were fired from Disney's Animal Kingdom for refusing to wear unsanitary costumes, the Teamsters Union announced Monday. The ruling, issued April 26, orders Walt Disney World to reinstate full-time employees Drew Pearson, Matthew Warfield and Raymond “Doug” Biederman.
Biederman, Pearson and Warfield perform in “The Festival of the Lion King” show at the Animal Kingdom, a popular live-action musical that involves singing, dancing and acrobatics. On June 10, 2014, the three cast members were fired after refusing to dress in soiled spandex unitards.
According to witness testimony in the case, the spandex unitards were found on a rack of dirty uniforms that, in addition to being covered in sweat from a previous performance, had also been left out in the rain. The arbitrator ruled that the performers were dismissed without just cause and that Disney violated language in a collective bargaining agreement guaranteeing that all costumes be clean – a provision added to the agreement more than a decade ago after incidents of Disney workers contracting rashes, scabies, ringworm and other infections.
“The ruling states that the bargaining agreement is ‘clear and unambiguous’ when it comes to the clean-costume provision. It just goes to show how important contract language is to the grievance process,” said Donna-Lynne Dalton, Recording Secretary of Local 385 in Orlando, Fla. “We are thrilled to get these talented performers back to work.”
“Doug, Drew, and I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for the passion, support, and perseverance of the entire membership body of Teamsters Local 385,” said Matthew Warfield, a live performer at Disney since 2003. “Our deepest gratitude must be extended to Donna-Lynne Dalton. From the very beginning she had our backs and always kept our best interests in mind. She took on our grievance with fire and drive and never gave up.”
Dalton and representatives of Local 385 fought hard following the company’s decision to terminate the performers, working closely with them throughout the grievance process. In addition to getting their jobs back, the Disney performers are entitled to full back pay covering the time between their reinstatements and their layoffs.
“We did it. We're coming back to work because of the overwhelming support of the Teamsters Union," said Drew Pearson. "Thank you to Local 385 and to my fellow performers.”
"I'm ecstatic and beyond grateful for all the support and help from everyone. I get to come home to a job and career that I love,” said Doug Biederman.
Biederman, Warfield and Pearson are scheduled to return to the “Lion King” stage in May. A Disney spokesman said the company will comply with the ruling.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents more than 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States and Canada.