News 4 days ago

Disney Junior show ending at California Adventure as puppeteers negotiate pay raise

The Orange County Register — Mark Eades The Orange County Register

Feb. 17--ANAHEIM -- The "Disney Junior -- Live on Stage!" show at Disney California Adventure will be ending this spring, while the union representing its puppeteers is negotiating for increase in wages.

The show features puppets depicting characters from some of the "Disney Junior" television shows in a live show geared toward preschool-age children. Currently it includes characters from "Jake and the Never Land Pirates," "Sofia the First" and others.

Both sides say the closure is not related to the union talks.

In May 2015, a majority of the 30 puppeteers voted to join the American Guild of Variety Artists, which also represents live performers at the resort such as singers and dancers.

Soon after, the guild filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that year that Disney reduced their work hours and took other retaliatory actions. The complaint was settled, with Disney paying the puppeteers about $167,000 in back pay, according to Steve Rosen, the West Coast business representative for the guild.

But the two sides are still negotiating a three-year contract for the puppeteers.

Rosen said that when the union was formed, the guild offered to fold the puppeteers into the same contract it has for live performers at the resort, but that Disney declined that offer, with officials saying they wanted to negotiate a specific contract for them.

Since then, the two sides have been negotiating a contract and, according to Rosen, the guild and Disney have reached a tentative agreement on many of the issues, but are still discussing wages.

"Disneyland has dug their heels in on a starting wage of $12 an hour. Assuming this is a three-year contract, that means that in 2019, the starting wage will be the same as the California state-mandated minimum wage," he said.

In December, resort officials told the puppeteers and live performers the current show will end April 9.

The new show will still be based on Disney Junior's current television shows and any performers used in the show will be represented by the guild. A date for the debut of the new show has not yet been set.

"We constantly evaluate our entertainment offerings and make changes to provide compelling reasons for our guests to visit time and time again," Suzi Brown, a Disneyland Resort spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Brown added that the show has been updated several times since 2003, when it was called "Playhouse Disney -- Live on Stage!" and featured characters from "Bear in the Big Blue House." That version was also updated during its run and got its current name in 2011. The show was also updated again in 2013.

Brown also said the new show would feature new technology to make it easier for Disney to update.

Disney plans to offer the puppeteers and others in the show a chance to audition for other roles in its live action shows, or other positions within the company, which, according to Brown, the resort has done in the past like when the live-action "Aladdin" show ended its run.

The sides return to the bargaining table in mid-March.

Contact the writer: meades@scng.com or follow on twitter @markaeades

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