Three performers fired at Animal Kingdom over costume issues

Posted Monday, October 27, 2014 8:47 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Backstage at the Festival of The Lion King at Animal Kingdom, three performers had refused to don their animal costumes. Their unitards had been tainted, the employees argued, by other workers' sweaty garments that accidentally touched theirs. The dirty costume pieces had been on a rack that they said had somehow been pushed up against where their clean clothes hung. Walt Disney World fired the performers shortly after the canceled show, and now they are fighting to get their jobs back. The Teamsters union that represents them is bringing the issue in front of a federal arbitrator later this year. The union argues Disney violated its contract by providing unsanitary clothing.

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

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Monday, October 27, 2014 8:49 AM

Disney is treading on dangerous ground there. The performer unions could grind all live entertainment to a halt there if they're not careful. You can't just replace those folks like the people serving churros.

Monday, October 27, 2014 1:59 PM

Let me start by saying that I'm a union member, and therefore pro-union.

This is why unions exist. Sometimes workers need to stand up for what is right in the interest of health, safety, etc, even if it means major consequences for the company. If it is found that these employees are in the right, they should have representation and be allowed to get their jobs back.

But Ebola? Come on... This is trashy journalism right here...

What I don't get is the unitard situation itself. If this is essentially your underwear, and you perform multiple shows a day, why would each performer not have backup unitards? They have lockers, right? I'm sure the contract has provisions for the company to provide on site laundering, but surely they would allow for a spare to be hung in each performers locker? And honestly, I'd rather be responsible for laundering my own underwear, even if it's easier and more convenient to have it done for me on premise.

Monday, October 27, 2014 1:59 PM

And it's not like it's just some pants that were touching other dirty pants or something. It's unitards. Ew.

Still, it should be interesting to see how this goes. I'd imagine this stuff goes on all the time in the theater and dance world, so I'm honestly not sure how it will end up.

Monday, October 27, 2014 2:40 PM

Jeff, I agree. Disney is walking on a thin rope on this one.

Monday, October 27, 2014 4:00 PM

It's a pretty intense show with a lot of heavy costumes, and the dance performers undoubtedly get pretty gross (and it can be damn cold in there). In fact, looking at a close up of one of my photos of that show, I can see the sweat on the performer's face.

Theater is apparently a lot like TV (my former life), where the unions constantly straddle the line between being a pain in the ass and protecting their members. My wife was a stage manager and still has her Actor's Equity card, but can tell you all kinds of stories about the little things that don't make sense and the exploitive nature of the business.

In any case, with all of the lycra/spandex and feathers in that show, yeah, I wouldn't be in a real hurry to get into a costume that was cohabitating a rack with unwashed stuff.

Monday, October 27, 2014 4:03 PM

I think it's strange that there wouldn't be back-ups in case of emergecies to begin with. Seriously, this is Disney not the high school drama department. They can't afford to have two clean unitards available per peformer and store them in two seperate but close by locations?

Monday, October 27, 2014 4:24 PM

Well, I suppose they don't achieve the margins they do because they're loose with their cash. (Unless it's spending on NextGen, apparently.)

Monday, October 27, 2014 6:01 PM

Disney achieves those margins because they don't skimp on investments...

Vestments, apparently, might be another story. ;~P

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 5:26 PM

Back in the day I did some show business and I was shocked at how little care was given to costumes. They got washed only once a week. By Sunday matinee it was hard to stand up there next to some guys, and I actually wondered sometimes how much the audience knew! And as far as duplicates or back ups, huh uh. They didn't exist. I had a pair of pants literally disintegrate on me once and there was nothing for me to do but borrow another guy's costume for act II.

I'm not sure about Disney and how often they launder but I bet it's less than any of us imagine. There's a full time costume department, separate from general laundry, that launders and repairs but those suits are elaborate, expensive and they're not growing on the trees down there. Daily laundering would ruin them and as with all things they're striving to get by with as little wear and tear as possible.

I have a couple friends here that are professional union dressers and work the bus-and-truck broadway touring companies when they come through. I'll check and see what their take on it is.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 9:07 PM

I love how the manager suggested to spray it with some Febreze! So much for killing the germs, lets make them spell pretty.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 9:11 PM

That sounds like a rookie mistake. I don't know which union represents those performers, but along the lines of Actor's Equity or IATSE, you would know better with even a shred of experience.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 2:07 AM

There is a spray that disinfects costumes though. We sprayed the outer layers of our costumes every day at Universal at the end of our HHN shift, but I can't remember how often they were actually cleaned. The spray did a really good job though, somehow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 7:43 AM

Travis, that's the outside of the costume though. This is sweat in unitards, man. ;)

Still, you have a decent idea. I wonder if something like that could be available in a case like this. Or if it WAS available and not good enough. Also, I wonder if anywhere in their terms of employment or in their training that they were told this could sometimes happen.

On the other hand, these employees also didn't necessarily know what their costumes had been exposed to. They just knew there was soilage. Not saying the costumes had something other than sweat on them, but these employees didn't necessarily KNOW that's all they were being exposed to. Plus, it IS a good way to also be exposed to MRSA, fungus, and other nasties.

I tend to lean towards the employees on this, and not just because it's gross. I think Disney was a little harsh in their decision, and I can't see that this fosters any sort of confidence in Disney backing up their employees' concerns. For all we know, these employees were crummy employees who were one step away from termination anyway, but if not, it seems there'd be other steps to take before firing someone because they stood up for themselves regarding a health concern.

Last edited by bunky666, Wednesday, October 29, 2014 7:50 AM
Wednesday, October 29, 2014 8:35 AM

LostKause said:

There is a spray that disinfects costumes though.

Cheap vodka? That's what they used for the last show I did. :D


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