Teamsters' top boss tries to quell Disney rebellion
Costumed character-performers threaten to leave union
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Teamsters' top boss is trying to quell a rebellion by Mickey, Minnie and their costumed friends.
International Brotherhood of Teamsters general president James Hoffa ordered a hearing in Florida last weekend to determine whether leaders should be removed from the local Teamsters union that represents costumed character-performers, truck drivers and other workers at Walt Disney World.
Accusing the local leadership of "horrible misrepresentation," hundreds of costumed character-performers have threatened to leave the union, prompting Hoffa to call Saturday's daylong hearing, which drew scores of local members. A panel of Teamsters officials who heard the testimony now have up to two months to decide whether to recommend removing Local 385's leadership. Hoffa makes the final decision.
Separately, investigators with another, independent Teamsters office already had been investigating allegations that Local 385's leaders had created false records and committed embezzlement and obstruction.
"Everybody is hopeful and confident they're going to take them out," said Ralph Singer, a truck driver at Disney and Local 385 member, who has been a vocal opponent of the union local's leadership. "It just took way too long to get there."
Clay Jeffries, Local 385's president, didn't respond to an email and phone call seeking comment.
In a notice calling for the hearing, Hoffa said he had received "credible allegations" that Local 385's leaders have failed to act in the interest of union members.
Among the complaints was that Local 385 leaders made a deal with Disney World officials to cut out 20 or so workers from being covered by the union. The workers made the schedules for the costumed performers, and they were left with the choice of either working without a union contract or finding another lesser-paying job still covered by the union.
Union members also said Local 385 leaders had been unresponsive to grievances by members who drive trucks for the movie industry, Hoffa said in the notice.
The 9,000 members of Local 385 have key roles in central Florida's tourism and transportation industries. About half are Disney workers; the rest include UPS drivers, hotel employees, food service workers, rental car employees and other drivers across 20 Florida counties.
The costumed character-performers have been Teamsters members since the early 1980s. But almost two-thirds of the 1,000 performers at Disney World recently signed a petition to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, threatening to leave.
The costumed character-performers "would like to stand united in presenting this attached petition with more than 600 members' names who are interested in forfeiting Union membership as a result of the horrible misrepresentation we have received from our local Union representatives," the character-performers said in an email to Hoffa's office, accompanying the petition.
It is uncommon for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to remove leadership and temporarily take over a local union in what is known as a "trusteeship," said Bret Caldwell, director of communications for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The number of leaders who could be removed at Local 385 ranges from one to more than a half dozen.
When this happens, a "trustee" is brought in to run the local union and clean house until elections can be held for new local union leaders.
"You don't take a trusteeship lightly when moving forward, if that's where this ends up," Caldwell said. "The concerns of members are paramount."
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