After almost two months at the negotiating table, workers who play characters such as Mickey Mouse and Cinderella at Walt Disney World have won an important concession: clean undergarments.
Disney and the Teamsters union have a tentative agreement to assign workers individual undergarments, which they can take home each night to clean themselves instead of relying on Disney laundry.
The agreement follows worker complaints about contracting pubic lice and scabies from Disney-laundered underwear.
"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 must 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 hot water was used to clean the undergarments, but the laundry apparently wasn'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. Steverson said there have been three cases of costumed workers at the Magic Kingdom getting pubic lice or scabies during the last two years.
Disney spokeswoman Rena Callahan refused to comment on the new contract provisions.
But Callahan said workers are expected to wear underpants underneath their tights and bike shorts, and the garments are immediately laundered after they've been worn.
"If cast members aren't happy with the condition of an item, they can turn [it] back in and they will be issued another costume," she said. "We want our cast members to be happy with their costumes."
Other concessions costumed workers 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 must be outside.
Recently, smoke from a nearby brush fire 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 Disney workers from five other unions vote next week on the new contract, which covers about 25,000 of Disney World's 55,000 employees.