NATIONAL NEWS

Disney in balancing act as walkout actions materialize

Mar 22, 2022, 3:43 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:37 pm
Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a sign while protesting outside of Walt Disney World on Ma...
Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a sign while protesting outside of Walt Disney World on March 22, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Employees are staging a company-wide walkout today to protest Walt Disney Co.'s response to controversial legislation passed in Florida known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)
(Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Even though only a small percentage of Walt Disney Co. workers participated in a walkout Tuesday, organizers felt they had won a moral victory with the company issuing a statement denouncing the anti-LGBTQ legislation that sparked employee outrage.

Throughout the day, pockets of employees staged demonstrations at various sites across the country, including near Orlando’s Walt Disney World and Walt Disney Studios. According to a Disney official, there had been no interruptions in any operations.

Disney employed 190,000 workers last October, with roughly three-quarters working in its theme parks division.

The debate forced the company into a balancing act between the expectations of a diverse workforce and demands from an increasingly polarized, politicized marketplace.

On one side are LGBTQ advocates and Disney employees calling for the walkout in protest of CEO Bob Chapek’s slow response in publicly criticizing Florida legislation that opponents dubbed as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The legislation awaiting the governor’s signature bars instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

On the other are politicians like Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who accuse the entertainment conglomerate of bending to cancel culture after a Disney decision to temporarily suspend political contributions in the state. DeSantis, who has been tacking toward the Republican base on culture war issues, is seen as a 2024 presidential hopeful.

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

“I don’t want to downplay anyone’s efforts, if someone feels what they are doing is the right way to make an impact,” said Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here! Local 362, which represents custodians, housekeepers and other Walt Disney World theme park workers. “We aren’t part of that. It would violate our contract if members of our union participated, though we are concerned about the issue, of course.”

Evan Power, Leon County’s Republican Party chairman, said he believes a strident minority of Disney employees are pushing the issue, and DeSantis has more to gain by taking the side of parents who want more control over education and “sexual conversations” in early grades at school.

In a Tuesday Facebook post, Disney wrote that the company opposes “any legislation that infringes on basic human rights” and stands “in solidarity” with LGBTQ employees “who make their voices heard today and every day.”

A half-dozen Disney workers gathered Tuesday morning at an Orlando LGBTQ center 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 that we could be creative and productive and write letters of encouragement to LGBTQ youth,” said Gabe, a Walt Disney World product development manager who didn’t want his last name used for fear of having his privacy invaded.

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

In January 2021, it said it would suspend political donations to lawmakers who voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. It also threatened to pull business from Georgia — a favorite of movie and TV studios — following a 2016 anti-gay bill, which was ultimately vetoed by the then-governor.

Chapek, who became CEO in 2020, has now drawn fire for speaking out about the gender identity bill only after it passed the Florida Legislature.

Republican lawmakers pushing the Florida legislation argued that parents, not teachers, should be the ones talking to their children about gender issues during their early formative years. The legislation attracted scrutiny from Democrats including Biden, who called it “hateful.” It has been sent to DeSantis, who 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 pause to political donations in Florida and support for advocacy groups fighting similar legislation in other states, reiterating those points during a company-wide discussion Monday.

Outside Walt Disney World’s property, Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado was a lone protester Tuesday, wearing 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 an Orlando Disney store and, while disappointed with Chapek’s initial response, said he felt Disney’s leaders were beginning to hear the concerns of the company’s workers.

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

Walkout organizers maintain that withholding political contributions isn’t enough.

A group calling for the walkout said on its website that, until the legislation is repealed, Disney leaders need to stop investments in Florida, including the relocation of 2,000 mostly professional jobs from its California headquarters to Orlando. They also say Disney needs to develop an LGBTQ brand similar to the Onyx Collective, an initiative aimed at developing content by and for people of color.

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

Jonathan Shutt, a senior product manager for Disney Streaming Services, said he was aware that not every worker 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 walk out and stand up for people,” Shutt said.

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

“We don’t talk about Bruno,” she cracked, referring to the catchy song from the Disney movie “Encanto.”

___

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

___

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

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

Four University of Idaho students were found dead Nov. 13 at this three-story home on King Road in ...
Veronica Miracle, Stella Chan and Jason Hanna, CNN

Investigators have quality leads in the killings of 4 students, police say

Investigators have "a lot of quality leads" about last month's killings of four University of Idaho students in an off-campus house police said.
19 hours ago
District of Columbia Police Chief Robert Contee looks on as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) passe...
MARY CLARE JALONICK, FARNOUSH AMIRI and LISA MASCARO, Associated Press

Jan. 6 ‘heroes’ honored for defending Capitol from Trump mob

Top House and Senate leaders have bestowed Congress' highest honor on law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
19 hours ago
The U.S. flag flies at half staff over the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC on May 12, 2022 ...
Madison Swenson

Gov. Cox orders flags lowered for National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has ordered all flags be lowered to half-staff on Wednesday as part of National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.
19 hours ago
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Legacy Sports USA on October 09, 2...
MICHAEL R. SISAK Associated Press

Trump Organization convicted in executive tax dodge scheme

Donald Trump’s company was convicted of tax fraud on Tuesday in a case brought by the Manhattan District Attorney.
19 hours ago
A sign marking the entrance to Hildale in Utah, from Colorado City in Arizona. (FILE)...
Larry D. Curtis

FBI says polygamist leader took 20 wives, many underage, alleges illicit sexual activities

Probable cause documents lay out illicit sexual activities of a small religious group — that included underage girls — under the orders of Samuel Rappylee Bateman, living on the Utah and Arizona border. The documents also detail how girls were helped to run away by Bateman’s adult plural wives after they were removed from family […]
19 hours ago
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: In this photo illustration, three screens display the splash page for...
Associated Press

Facebook parent Meta threatens to remove news from platform

Facebook parent Meta Platforms says it will be forced to consider removing news content from its platform if Congress passes legislation that could require social media companies to pay news outlets.
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Disney in balancing act as walkout actions materialize