News & Commentary

May 20, 2024

Holden Hopkins

Holden Hopkins is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News & Commentary, Disneyland performers vote to unionize and unions secure a win in Congress’ reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration Act. 

On Saturday, performers at Disneyland theme park voted overwhelmingly—953 to 258—in favor of unionizing. Organized as “Magic United” through Actors’ Equity, the new union will represent over 1,700 character and parade workers at the Anaheim, California park. Actors’ Equity has traditionally represented stage actors, but is now branching out. They previously organized Griffith Observatory tour guides in Los Angeles, and last year helped secure a union for the only unionized strip club at the time, the Star Garden Topless Dive Bar.

“These workers are on the front lines of the Guest experience; they’re the human beings who create lifelong memories when your kids hug a character, or when your family watches a parade roll by the castle,” stated Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity, in a press release following the win.

Campaigning on the slogan “Magic doesn’t pay our rent,” employees fought for better pay, schedules, and enhanced workplace health and safety conditions. As Divya noted last month in reporting on the filing of the election petition, the character actors and support staff will now join the 21,000 other Disneyland employees, including retail and food services workers, security guards, make-up artists and pyrotechnics workers, who already have union representation. 

Disney has declined to comment on the result of the election thus far, claiming it would be “premature”. The company will have a week to challenge the vote before the NLRB certifies the union as the bargaining representative of the character actors.

Last Wednesday, Congress passed the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration Act without a controversial provision raising the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 65 to 67. That provision was opposed by a coalition of unions led by the Air Line Pilots Association and including the AFL-CIO, who argued the change could interfere with settled CBA provisions and increase safety concerns. 

Not all pilots were on board with the union’s stance, however. Several older pilots, represented primarily by the group Let Experienced Pilots Fly, Inc. advocated in favor of the retirement age increase. They argue that the current policy unfairly excludes qualified pilots and accuse the Pilots’ unions of age discrimination.

In January, Let Experienced Pilots Fly filed a lawsuit against the ALPA in Illinois federal court alleging a breach of the duty of fair representation under the Railway Labor Act. They claim the union has favored younger pilots through their fight against the retirement age hike and has acted with “animosity” and “hostility” towards older pilots. 

Professor Michael Duff of the Saint Louis University School of Law told Bloomberg Law that he believes the pilots’ group ultimately has a weak case against the union. He points out that Supreme Court precedent, most recently in 1991’s ALPA v. O’Neill, has established that discrimination by a union must be “irrational” and “intentional, severe, and unrelated to legitimate union objectives.” Given that the union’s primary cited motivation for opposing the retirement age increase has been safety, Duff sees a high barrier for the pilots’ group to meet the required test. 

Opposition to the change in retirement age was also based on what some advocates claimed was the rushed nature of the regulatory change. Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department at the AFL-CIO, expressed concern over a lack of research before introduction of the provision, stating,  “[a]ny time you’re going to try to insert language without proper safety regulation, or study, or without any coordination with our international flying partners, it’s a bad idea.” The FAA in February requested that Congress not raise the age until it was able to study the issue. 

The attempted change was motivated at least in part by the recent shortage of airline pilots since the pandemic, which Nicholas previously reported on.

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.