ORLANDO, Fla. – After almost two months at the negotiating table, the workers who play characters such as Mickey Mouse and Cinderella at Walt Disney World have won an important concession: clean undergarments.
Under a tentative contract between Disney and the Teamsters union, the workers will be assigned individual undergarments, which they can take home each night to clean themselves instead of relying on Disney launderers.
Some workers had complained about getting pubic lice and scabies.
"Things have been passed around," said Gary Steverson, a stilt walker at Animal Kingdom. "I know I don't want to share my tights and I don't want to share my underwear."
Many of the characters have to wear Disney-issued jock straps, tights or bike shorts underneath their costumes because regular underwear bunches up and is noticeable. Each night, they turn in the undergarments with the rest of their costume before going home. They then pick up a different set the next day.
Disney officials had told the workers that they use hot water to clean the undergarments, but they apparently weren't doing so, said Steverson, a shop steward with the Teamsters, which represents workers who portray such figures as Goofy, Pluto, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck.
Some workers complained about receiving undergarments that were stained or smelly. Stevenson said there have been three cases of costumed workers at the Magic Kingdom getting pubic lice or scabies during the past two years.
Disney spokeswoman Rena Callahan refused to comment on the new contract provisions because "we don't conduct our negotiations with the media, only at the negotiating table."
Other concessions the costumed characters won include more time to put on their costumes and a weather clause that includes air pollution as a factor in determining how long costumed characters have to be outside.
Recently, smoke from a nearby brush fire has irritated singers' vocal cords and made it difficult for stilt walkers to breathe, employees said.
"People are feeling nauseous, they have itchy eyes, are dizzy and have headaches," said Calon Webb, a union shop steward at Animal Kingdom.
The costumed characters and other Disney workers will vote on the new contract next week.
The Teamsters and five other unions represent about 25,000 of Disney World's 55,000 workers.