It seems that the puppeteers who work the Disney Jr. Live on Stage show at Disney California Adventure Park are going to be without jobs after April 9th. The show, which is based on current popular Disney Jr. Characters and storylines has been puppet-centric now for 14 years, since it opened in 2003.
Disney claims the show at DCA will close in April, and while it will re-open at a later date, that the puppets will be replaced by “new technology”, leaving the 28 puppeteers out of a job. The Disney Jr. Live on Stage show at Walt Disney World currently has no plans to close.
While we have seen Disney close and renovate many other attractions and rides before, the puppeteers say this new move to remove the puppets from the show is personal, and based on their desire to join a local union. The LA Times reports that Disney’s decision to end the puppet show comes after a contentious two-year period during which the puppeteers joined a union, the American Guild of Variety Artists. The 2 years were full of negotiations and turmoil, with the guild filing two National Labor Relations Board complaints against Disney in 2015 alleging the company reduced work hours and took other retaliatory actions against 29 puppeteers after they signaled they could unionize. Ultimately, Disney and the union settled the matter, leading to back pay for the workers.
When asked to comment on the issue, Disneyland Resort spokeswoman Suzi Brown said in a statement: “We constantly evaluate our entertainment offerings and make changes to provide compelling reasons for our guests to visit time and time again.” She also added that the puppeteers would be free to apply for new positions within the updated show, which she claims will be heavily based on technology, which will allow them to change it up more quickly when there is a new Disney Jr. trend or character on the horizon.
While the National Labor Relations Act states that it is illegal for an employer to fire or demote an employee in response to that worker exercising his or her right to unionize, the employer may change it’s branding, business models, procedures, etc., or even close an aspect of their business and alter it to something different instead; which is what the puppeteers claim Disney is doing to get around the NLRA.
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