Disney World employees object to Governor Ron DeSantis’ appointees’ move to eradicate complimentary passes

New Board Members Confronted by Walt Disney World Employees Over Elimination of Benefits

In a heated exchange at a monthly board meeting, employees of Walt Disney World’s governing district expressed their dismay and frustration over the decision to eliminate their access to free passes and discounts to the renowned theme park resort. They argued that this move makes park visits unaffordable and diminishes their overall job satisfaction.

Several current and former district firefighters spoke passionately about how the free passes to Disney parks were a significant benefit for them and their families. These perks played a major role in their decision to work for the 56-year-old district, which provides essential municipal services such as mosquito control, drainage, wastewater treatment, planning, and firefighting services to Disney World.

Firefighter Pete Simon emphasized, “The removal of this benefit takes away, for some, their entire reason for working here.” The heartfelt testimonials from firefighters highlighted the deep impact these benefits had on their lives.

The controversy stems from the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s recent announcement that the $2.5 million worth of season passes and discounts on various amenities provided to the district’s 400 employees were considered unethical perks. These benefits were seen as favoring Disney while burdening the district with the financial responsibility. As a result, the district submitted a complaint to the state Inspector General, which investigates fraud, mismanagement, waste, and abuse.

The five members of the district’s board in question were appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis earlier this year. This move came as a response to Disney’s opposition to a state law that banned classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades.

Firefighter Aaron Clark, who comes from a family with a long history of service in the district, emotionally recounted the memories he had of his father taking him to Disney World using the passes. He now provides the same magical experiences for his three daughters. The elimination of these passes deeply affected him, and he found it disturbing that the district and DeSantis adopted an adversarial stance towards Disney, emphasizing that it had nothing to do with district employees.

Board chair Martin Garcia defended the decision, arguing that the passes and discounts unfairly favored Disney over other local businesses within the district. He also highlighted that employees with larger families received a greater benefit compared to their single counterparts, and it was inappropriate for a private company to provide gifts to government workers. Garcia did, however, mention that the district would offer employees a wage increase of over $1,400 as an alternative.

This dispute over the ethics of the benefits coincided with an ethical predicament faced by the district’s newly appointed administrator, Glen Gilzean. Gilzean, who earns $400,000 annually in his new position, was concurrently serving as the chair of the Florida Commission on Ethics. A legal opinion last week determined that he could not hold both roles simultaneously due to the commission’s prohibition of public employees serving on its board. Gilzean announced his resignation from the ethics commission during the board meeting.

The ongoing feud between DeSantis and Disney began when the company publicly opposed a state law, commonly referred to as “Don’t Say Gay.” In response, DeSantis took control of the district through legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. He appointed a new board of supervisors responsible for overseeing municipal services for Disney’s extensive theme parks and hotels. However, the authority of these supervisors over design and construction was limited by pre-existing agreements between Disney and the previous board members.

In retaliation, Florida lawmakers passed legislation that repealed these agreements. As a result, Disney sued DeSantis in federal court, asserting that the governor violated the company’s free speech rights. Simultaneously, the district filed a lawsuit against Disney in state court, seeking to invalidate these agreements.

During a budget presentation at the board meeting, Gilzean informed attendees that significant funds, totaling $4.5 million for the 2024 fiscal year and $1.9 million for the 2023 fiscal year, were allocated for litigation expenses.

The contentious decision to eliminate employee benefits, the ensuing legal battles, and the emotional testimonies of affected employees have led to a complex and multifaceted situation for all parties involved. The fate of the once cherished perks hangs in the balance as the stakeholders navigate this difficult and highly charged landscape.

Related Articles

Back to top button