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Disney workers appeal firing

A crowd that gathered to watch one of the popular Festival of the Lion King shows at Disney’s Animal Kingdom left disappointed one evening after it was abruptly canceled. Backstage, 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 were.

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.

“We felt the unitards that were clean had absorbed sweat from the costumes that were already there,” said Doug Biederman, one of the performers. “We said, ‘We don’t know what to do. Obviously wearing these costume pieces isn’t an option because they’re soiled. They’re not wearable.’ ”

Disney said it disagrees with the assertions and will make its case to the arbitrator. The company would not provide further details, saying it does not comment on pending arbitration.

It may seem like a petty fight, but the dispute puts Disney in a tough situation, University of South Carolina hospitality instructor Scott Smith said.

“If the union wins, the union gets more power,” he said. “They can basically start to say, ‘Well, here, we’re going to allow cast members to stop the show if all these things are not perfect.’ ”

The company’s view is likely that “if we start letting these people call the shots and say what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable now, we’re over a barrel,” he said. “Anybody can shut down a show because one of the costumes had sweat on it or whatever.”


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