Reeling from a police crackdown, the costumed characters who entertain tourists and New Yorkers alike in Times Square are organizing to get better treatment, and are considering forming a labor union.
After receiving complaints that characters such as Catwoman, Piglet and Elmo were harassing visitors for tips, the NYPD launched a public information campaign last month, informing tourists that tipping is strictly optional. Cops have since been handing out fliers telling visitors that they do not have to pay for photos, and that if they have complaints, they should call the police.
But the performers dispute the notion that photos are free.
“We are here out of necessity,” Claudia Arias, 22, who was dressed as Catwoman, told the Daily News Monday. “We need to unite so people can see that this is our legitimate way of supporting our families.”
Many of the costume-wearers are Hispanic immigrants, and about 50 of them plan to meet Tuesday with the immigrant-rights group La Fuente, to discuss how to receive fairer treatment. Their long-term goal is to form a labor group similar to those that represent taxi drivers, organizers told the Daily News.
“We realized we needed to unite when we started seeing the bad publicity,” said Jorge Luis, 37, of Queens, who dresses as Batman.
Just this past weekend, two Iron Men, a Spider-Man, and an Elmo were charged with disorderly conduct for blocking pedestrians, while Spider-Man also grabbed a passerby for a photo, police said.
“People don’t see us with respect. ... We support our families with the tips they give us," Luis continued. "Ever since they started handing out the fliers, people take photos with us and walk away without even saying, ‘Thank you.’”