Amid the political fallout between the Walt Disney Company and the state of Florida, there are a group of people caught in the center.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis cemented his feud with the Walt Disney Company last week by signing a bill that looks set to dissolve the Lake Buena Vista Resort’s special treatment in the state.
Now, Cast Members and Imagineers being relocated to Florida are hoping that Disney will reverse the relocation decision.
Since 1967, the Walt Disney World Resort has been able to reside in Florida unregulated, basically acting as its own “government”. The Reedy Creek Improvement District allows Disney to act with the same authority as a county government. Local taxpayers – residents of Orange County and Osceola County – do not have to pay for building or maintaining Disney’s essential services.
But now, after over 50 years, it looks like this is all ending due to Republican reaction to Disney’s stance on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill passed in February.
Disney and Disney CEO Bob Chapek initially shied away from making a public statement regarding Florida’s new bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which targets the LGBTQ+ community and restricts conversations about gender and identities in schools. Disney’s statement against the bill caused a battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who set about dissolving Walt Disney World’s special bubble in Florida.
And according to the Wall Street Journal, this political feud has led many Cast Members and Imagineers previously told to relocate to Florida to become hesitant to move – and are hoping Disney’s decision is reversed.
The “Don’t Say Gay” controversy and Reedy Creek dissolution comes over a year after it was announced Walt Disney Imagineers and other Disney employees would be moved from California to Florida.
Approximately 2,000 Cast Members in the Disney Parks department were told in July 2021 that they would need to move to Florida or risk losing their jobs. These Cast Members were given 90 days to decide. According to Disney, more employees chose to relocate than initially expected.
But with the current political climate and decisions made in the state of Florida, these Cast Members are hoping to remain in California. Texas Governor Jared Polis has already joked that he would offer “full asylum” to Disney, while California Governor Gavin Newsome tweeted back in March, at the height of Bob Chapek’s criticism, that Disney should bring the jobs back to California:
Disney, the door is open to bring those jobs back to California—the state that actually represents the values of your workers.
Disney, the door is open to bring those jobs back to California – the state that actually represents the values of your workers. https://t.co/kbCi7Zgs90
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) March 13, 2022
The Wall Street Journal spoke to a former Disney Parks Cast Member who is gay and looking to have a child in the next few years. This Cast Member had worked for Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California for years but said he wasn’t comfortable moving to Florida after the new education law passed.
And it’s not just the “Don’t Say Gay” bill causing hesitation among Cast Members moving to Orlando, Florida. The Wall Street Journal cites one Imagineer who was worried about Florida’s more relaxed restrictions regarding COVID-19, while the upcoming potential dissolution of Walt Disney World’s Reedy Creek is also raising concerns.
Moving this many Cast Member jobs to Florida wouldn’t just be good for Disney World – it would also be lucrative for Florida itself. The move would start in 2023 and continue through the end of 2024 and they are expected to get an estimated $570 million in tax breaks over the next two decades.
The Cast Members who are changing their minds regarding their moves to Florida could lose severance payouts, which usually equates to a week’s pay for every year of Disney employment. A Disney spokeswoman said, apparently, that Disney has been flexible with employees and their personal situations.
Cast Members have noted Disney’s fifth key of “Inclusion” during talks about the relocation, saying Florida may go against what the “Inclusion” key is all about. Back in 2021, Disney added the Inclusion Key to its Cast Member basics. Disney Parks operate under Disney’s longstanding tradition of The Four Keys – Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency – which have guided the theme park company’s approach to Guest service for more than 65 years.
The current uncertainty of the Reedy Creek District’s future also has first responders worried about their careers, their employment, and the safety of Walt Disney World and its four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom). It’s Reedy Creek, not Disney, that employs 370 public employees and more than 200 first responders. When Reedy Creek dissolves on June 1, 2023 into Osceola County and Orange County, firefighters are concerned about what the burden will be on the Orange and Osceola County Fire departments.
So far, we’ve heard no comment from Disney CEO Bob Chapek on the historic political and financial situation, but stay tuned to Disney Tips for all updates on this developing story.