At Disney characters union, lawsuit seeks end to takeover

Tuesday, February 9, 2021 | Mike Schneider, Associated Press

In this Dec. 21, 2020 file photo, crowds line Main Street USA, with Cinderella Castle on the horizon, to watch characters parade at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Teamsters local that represents workers who play characters at Walt Disney World was taken over almost two years ago by its parent union, which cited “deficiencies" in the local's leadership following repeated complaints of mismanagement from members. Now a former officer of Local 385 is suing the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, claiming the takeover has lasted too long. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Teamsters local that represents workers who play Mickey Mouse, Goofy and other characters at Walt Disney World was taken over almost two years ago by its parent union, which cited “deficiencies" in the local's leadership following repeated member complaints of mismanagement.

Now a former business agent of Local 385 is suing the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, claiming the takeover has lasted too long. Gary Brown said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Orlando last week that the Teamsters needs to end its trusteeship and hold elections for new officers.

“The trusteeship was never necessary," Brown said late Monday via text. “It's not performing any function and no reason exists for its continuance."

Teamster spokesman Galen Munroe said the International Brotherhood of Teamsters does not comment on ongoing litigation or internal takeovers of locals, also known as trusteeships.

The 9,000 members of Local 385 have key roles in central Florida’s tourism and transportation industries. At the time of the takeover, about half were Disney workers, including costumed-character performers; the rest included UPS drivers, hotel employees, food service workers, rental car employees and other drivers across 20 Florida counties.

The International Brotherhood of Teamster took over Local 385 in June 2019. General President James Hoffa appointed two associates to run operations of the Orlando-based local, which at the time was collecting $3.6 million dues and fees and had $2.3 million in net assets.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is highly decentralized with locals like Local 385 exercising autonomy when it comes to elections and signing contracts on behalf of members. But the International Brotherhood of Teamsters can “trustee" locals in order to clean house of corrupt or incompetent leaders. Elections are usually held within a year and a half after a trusteeship so members can pick new leaders.

The previous leaders of Local 385 had faced multiple complaints from its members.

Disney's costumed-character performers were upset that Local 385 leaders made a deal with Disney World officials to cut out 20 or so workers from being covered by the union, without consulting members. Union members also said Local 385 leaders had been unresponsive to grievances by members seeking help against the companies they worked for.

More than 500 members had left Local 385 because of unhappiness with the leadership, and several hundred more members had signed petitions threatening to leave, according to a notice signed by Hoffa. Among those threatening to leave were nearly two-thirds of the 1,000 character performers at Disney World, who have been Teamsters since the early 1980s.

In the notice, Hoffa said he received complaints that representatives of the local known as stewards had been prevented from enforcing contracts in workplaces and that Local 385 had refused to schedule negotiating sessions with an employer for a new collective bargaining agreement.

In his lawsuit, Brown said if there was any dissatisfaction with the leadership it should have been solved through elections, not a trusteeship. The lawsuit also alleges that the elections have been delayed since the Teamsters official put in charge of Local 385 during the trusteeship, Michael McElmury, now wants to become an elected officer at the local and is taking time to build support for his candidacy.

“No reason exists why members themselves cannot take charge of their own local union and elect new officers," the lawsuit said.


This story has been corrected to show Brown was a former business agent, not an officer with the union.


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