Disney in balance as some workers go out in protest

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Although only a small percentage of Walt Disney Co. workers participated in a strike Tuesday, organizers felt they had won a moral victory when the company issued a statement condemning the anti-LGBTQ legislation that triggered the workers’ indignation.

During the day, pockets of staff staged demonstrations in various locations across the country, including near Orlando’s Walt Disney World and Walt Disney Animation Studios in California. According to a Disney official, there had been no interruptions in any operations.

Disney employed 190,000 workers last October, with about three-quarters working in their theme park department.

The debate forced the company to strike a balance between the expectations of a diverse workforce and the demands of an increasingly polarized, politicized marketplace.

On the one hand, LGBTQ advocates and Disney staff are calling for dismissal in protest of CEO Bob Chapek’s slow response in publicly criticizing Florida law, which opponents called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Legislation awaits the governor’s signature excludes teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten up to and including third grade.

On the other hand, there are politicians like Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis who accuse the entertainment conglomerate of bowing to wake up politics. Earlier this month, the company decided to temporarily suspend political contributions in Florida. DeSantis, who has seized the Republican base on culture war issues, is seen as a hopeful president in 2024.

Union leaders for the tens of thousands of unionized workers at Disney theme parks in Florida and California said they saw no time in their members and advised them not to do so because it would defy contractual obligations.

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Evan Power, Leon County’s Republican party chairman, said he believes a disproportionate minority of Disney employees are pushing the issue, and DeSantis has more to gain by taking the parents’ party, which wants more control over education and “sexual conversations” in the early classes at. school.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Disney wrote that the company opposes “any legislation that violates fundamental human rights” and stands “in solidarity” with LGBTQ staff, “making their voices heard today and every day.”

Half a dozen Disney workers gathered Tuesday morning at an LGBTQ center in Orlando to write letters in support of queer students. “You’re amazing. You Matter and We Care” and “It Gets Better,” they read next to a drawing of a rainbow.

“We are creators and we felt we could be creative and productive and write encouraging letters to LGBTQ youth,” said Gabe, a Walt Disney World product development manager who did not want his last name used for fear of having his privacy. invaded.

Dozens of Disney workers marched outside the company’s Burbank, California, studio, including one with a rainbow-colored Mickey Mouse doll, shouting, “Say gay!”

“We had a great group out here, just to show our support for our queer staff and their families,” said Nora Rogers, a production supervisor at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Disney, whose films and characteristics shaped generations of children around the world, has spoken out several times in recent years about controversial social and political situations.

In January 2021, it said it would suspend political donations to lawmakers who voted against confirming President Joe Biden’s election victory. It also threatened to pull out businesses from Georgia – a favorite among film and television studios – following a 2016 gay law bill that was eventually vetoed by the then governor.

Chapek, who became CEO in 2020, has now set fire to only commenting on the Gender Identity Act after it passed the Florida Legislature.

Republican lawmakers are pushing Florida law argued that parents, not teachers, should be the ones talking to their children about gender issues in their early years of reproduction. The legislation attracted attention from Democrats including Biden, who called it “hateful.” It has been sent to DeSantis, which is expected to sign it into law.

Chapek has apologized for not coming out more forcefully and publicly against the bill, saying Disney officials worked behind the scenes to stop it. Chapek also announced a break for political donations in Florida and support for advocacy groups fighting similar legislation in other states, and reiterated those points during a company-wide discussion Monday.

Outside Walt Disney World’s property, Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado on Tuesday was a lone protester carrying a rainbow flag and holding a sign reading “Trans rights are human rights” and “#DisneyDoBetter.”

“Where was Chapek when the bill was introduced?” said Maldonado, who had a day off from his merchandising job at a Disney store in Orlando, and although he was disappointed with Chapek’s first response, he said he felt Disney executives were beginning to hear the concerns of company employees.

Disney has long been influential in Florida politics and has tended to support Republicans who have had control of Tallahassee, the state capital, for two decades, but have also been more open on social issues, said Patricia Campos-Medina, co-director of Worker. Department of Cornell University. “That’s why people felt surprised that they wanted to keep quiet about this issue,” she said.

Walkout organizers argue that withholding political contributions is not enough.

The group of employees calling for the dismissal said on its website that Disney executives, until the legislation is repealed, will have to stop investing in Florida, including moving 2,000 mostly professional jobs from their California headquarters to Orlando. They also say that Disney needs to develop an LGBTQ brand similar to Onyx Collective, an initiative aimed at developing content for and for people of color.

About 20 Disney workers gathered at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of gay rights, to write letters in support of families affected by Florida law.

Jonathan Shutt, a senior product manager for Disney Streaming Services, said he was aware that not all employees who wanted to participate could do so, and that the company “just needs to do better.”

“There are many of us who are privileged enough to be able to do this, to be able to go out and stand up for people,” Shutt said.

Cynthia Cooley, a senior business program manager at Disney Streaming Services, said there was an unspoken signal among workers who decided to go out, with participating employees putting a rainbow flag next to their names in the Slack messaging app.

“We’re not talking about Bruno,” she snapped, referring to the catchy song from the Disney movie “Encanto.”


Farrington reported from Tallahassee; Meg Kinnard of Columbia, SC; Ted Shaffrey and Tali Arbel in New York; and John Antczak of Los Angeles contributed to this report.


Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

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