In Disney World book, AP writer chronicles Mickey Mouse and Teamsters’ union battle
"Mickey and the Teamsters."

There is power in a union, even in the Magic Kingdom.

Tired of smelly costumes and gropey tourists, the Disney World costumed characters — Mickey Mouse and Co. — wanted to unionize.

In the early 1980s, the costumed characters approached the Teamsters union, a less magical group with long ties to the mafia that was a coalition of truck drivers and warehouse workers.

“I’ve always been fascinated by this really weird marriage between the Teamsters and the costume character performers,” said Mike Schneider who is chronicling the story of Local 385 in his new book, “Mickey and the Teamsters.”

For 25 years, Schneider has covered Orlando for The Associated Press, writing about hurricanes, the Pulse nightclub shootings, the Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman trials and other news. Walt Disney World is intensely studied and written about, but Schneider zeroes on the untold story about the longtime tension between the Disney costumed characters and the Teamsters at Disney World.

Schneider recounts that performers eventually threatened to leave the Local 385 over corrupt leadership. They felt their union was run in an authoritarian way, instead of as a democracy.

The ongoing drama put Mickey Mouse, Goofy and the other performers in a lonely place in the late 2010s. They fought the company and Disney’s strict rules at the same time they were at war with their own local that was supposed to protect them.

The conflict between the performers and the local Teamsters boiled up all the way to Washington where the International’s General President James Hoffa — yes, the son of infamous Jimmy Hoffaintervened in 2019.

Schneider, who has covered the fight at Local 385 for years, interviewed Disney workers and local labor leaders for his book. He finds the heroine of the story in Donna-Lynne Dalton, the local’s business representative who rallied for the Disney performers and lost her job because of it.

Schneider is active in his own union at the NewsGuild.

“Union democracy, for me, is a very important principle, because it’s our union,” Schneider said. “But sometimes, especially say a union like the Teamsters, where the local president has a lot of autonomy, there’s a lot of money involved. The local in Orlando was producing $3 million to $4 million in dues coming from their 9,000 members. … If you don’t have proper checks and balances, and you don’t have the right leader, it can very easily vie to authoritarian decisions.”

Because Schneider’s book is set in Florida, you will find plenty of quirky anecdotes that illustrate the unique nature and perils of the job.

One such story is about a Tigger performer charged with sexual molestation after he was accused of touching a 13-year-old girl’s breasts in a group photo at Disney World. 

His defense attorney worked as a Disney costumed character. (It’s a small world!) 

During closing arguments, the defense wore a Tigger costume to make his key argument as he fought to keep his client out of prison for 15 years.

“He said to the jurors, ‘This is my friend Tigger,’” Schneider said. “And then he proceeds to put the costume on in front of the jurors to show how restrictive the costume can be.”

In the jury room, jurors could wear the costume to test out the limited peripheral vision in the bulky costume which made it hard to know where your hands went, Schneider said. It was the kind of trial that could only happen in Orlando (or maybe Anaheim.)

In the end, the defense’s strategy worked, and the performer was acquitted in 2004.

Schneider admits he’s a cynic. Undoubtedly it comes with the territory of being a longtime reporter covering some of the worst moments in humanity.

What struck Schneider in his reporting was how pure the Disney performers’ love for their job was.

“I can’t understate how much these character performers really believe in that magic,” Schneider said. “They do everything to connect with the guests and maintain that magic.”

For Disney fans and people interested in labor issues, the next stop in Schneider’s book tour is March 22 at the University Club of Winter Park.

“Mickey and the Teamsters”  is on sale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the University Press of Florida.

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .

One comment

  • Mouse-Stomped Ron

    January 22, 2024 at 5:29 am

    Ron sez “Iger kicked my ass!”

Comments are closed.


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