With barely a year to go before the grand opening of the $3 billion Euro Disneyland near Paris and with early bookings already being taken, Mickey Mouse and his friends are running into some old-fashioned European industrial problems.
Disney management has been harshly criticized recently by France's second-largest union, the Confederation Francais Democratique du Travail (CFDT), for imposing regulations on job candidates' personal appearance, which union officials say are infantile and an infringment of individual freedom.Linguistic purists, meanwhile, have accused Disney of ignoring the terms of their 1987 contract, which stipulated that French be the main language at the park, by using more English-language names than allowed.
Disney rejects the accusation, saying French will be the main language spoken in the park's various attractions, which will all have French names. Only when titles cannot be translated, like those of certain films, will they remain in English.
Euro Disneyland, described by its management as "a total destination project," hopes to attract 11 million visitors a year to its theme park, restaurants, shops and six hotels, which will offer a total of 5,200 rooms. Work on a second theme park will continue well into the next century.
Euro Disneyland is hiring a total of 12,000 people, making it Europe's biggest single source of jobs. But unions are angry because job candidates are being given six-page leaflets telling them what they must look like.
For example, nail polish, earrings and mustaches are forbidden.
According to Euro Disneyland spokesman Nicolas de Schonen, misunderstandings have arisen with the CFDT because people in Europe don't understand what an American-style "resort" is.
"They have difficulty imagining that everything will have a theme and that half the employees will need to wear costumes in keeping with that theme," he said. "We are a show business company. Disneyland is a 3-D film in which there are actors playing roles. Employees - or cast members, as we call them - must conform with our grooming policy.
"They must be able to wear any costume in the park, and that may involve false mustaches, false beards and wigs. It is difficult to explain to people who have never seen Disneyland."
The rules also apply to Euro Disneyland's office employees - the "backstage staff," as they're described - who make up half the work force.
Even executives will be expected to get dressed up and mingle with the public once or twice a year. The rest of the time they'll have to comply with dress rules in solidarity with the other employees.
"It would be abnormal for management to impose a constraint and not observe it themselves," de Schonen said.
Euro Disneyland officials claim they're conforming to French labor legislation, which allows employers to impose certain rules of dress. The CFDT union sees things differently.
"It's true some firms impose a number of criteria. But Disney is going much too far," said union spokeswoman Isabelle Perrin-Boucher.
"They impose a regulation length for women's nails and have banned lipstick and eye makeup. Women's heels must be between 2 centimeters and 10 centimeters (0.8 and 4 inches) high. Skirts must be 8 centimeters (3.2 inches) above the knee - no more, no less."
These restrictions are not written into internal regulations - they're imposed when someone is hired, so they can't be fought later on. But if anyone is fired next year for wearing lipstick, for example, it will be interesting to see what French industrial tribunals make of it.
The CFDT also wonders how French people who are used to having one fixed job in a firm will adjust to the Disney idea of switching jobs.
"It will be interesting to see how an accountant tackles the job of standing in for Mickey Mouse because the employee playing Mickey Mouse has fallen ill," Perrin-Boucher said. "We think industrial problems will soon crop up over switching jobs like that and also because of the question of overtime.
"We would never criticize people for taking jobs with Disney because there is a lot of unemployment in France. But we don't want Euro Disneyland to profit from that."