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Disney finds its own way to balance the action with the threat of walking

ORLANDO, FLA. – With some workers across the US threatening to leave on Tuesday, The Walt Disney Company finds itself balancing the expectations of a diverse workforce with the demands of an increasingly polarized market. , politicized.

On one side were LGBTQ advocates and Disney employees calling for a walkout to protest CEO Bob Chapek’s slow response to publicly criticizing a Florida law that opponents dubbed the “Don’t” bill. say gay”. The bill, pending the governor’s signature, prohibits instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

On the other hand are politicians like Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who accused the entertainment conglomerate of bending to de-culture following Disney’s decision to temporarily suspend political contributions in the state. According to Disney’s conservative critics, the company should be in business to make a profit, not push an agenda.

Evan Power, the Republican chairman of Leon County, said he believes a handful of hardline Disney employees are driving the issue and that DeSantis has more interests in siding with parents who want more control. than education and “sex conversation” in the early grades. at school. DeSantis is seen as a Republican presidential candidate in 2024.

“I think it pays dividends with parents across the state of Florida regardless of the political divide,” Power said.

Union officials represent tens of thousands of workers at Disney theme parks in Florida and Anaheim, California – including hundreds of costumed artists playing Mickey, Cinderella and Stitch at Walt Disney World – said there seems to be no motivation for a walk.

“We don’t support that,” Romualdas Dulskis, a Teamsters official in Orlando who locally represents costumed characters, bus drivers and other Disney employees, said Monday. “That’s not how we’re going to go about this.”

Union leaders say they have advised members not to participate because their contracts prohibit work stoppage or interruption of work.

“I don’t want to downplay anyone’s efforts, if someone feels what they’re doing is the right way to make an impact,” said Eric Clinton, Unite Here president. Here! Local 362, representing the custodians, housekeepers, and other employees of Disney World theme parks. “We are not part of that. It would be a breach of our contract if members of our union were to join, although we are concerned about the matter, of course.”

One of the organizers of the walk, a New York-based employee, said they expect more participation from Disney workers in production, marketing, IT and other jobs. desk jobs are different from hourly union jobs. The employee spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of being targeted online and because the organizers did not want a single organizer to gain attention.

Part of the walk’s goal is for “privileged” workers to be able to demonstrate to stand up for those who cannot, the New York employee said.

The workers participating in the walkout plan to meet at locations in Orlando, New York City, Anaheim and Burbank, California, where the company is headquartered. A Disney spokesperson did not respond to an email seeking comment.

As of October last year, Disney employed 190,000 workers, with about three-quarters working in its theme parks division.

Disney, whose films and properties have 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 was among a number of US companies that said they would suspend political donations to lawmakers who voted against President Joe Biden’s endorsement of his election victory. . It also soon spoke out against a 2016 anti-gay bill in Georgia that threatened to pull its business out of the state, which has become a favorite spot for TV and movie studios. The bill was vetoed by the then governor of Georgia.

And the company hasn’t shied away from changing society’s expectations. It said it would improve the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain rides at its theme parks to remove racist and sexist elements, and introduce new a brief warning ahead of some classic movies on their streaming service, Disney+, warning viewers of “outdated cultural depictions.”

This time, Chapek, who becomes CEO in 2020, made headlines by speaking out about the gender identity bill only after it was passed by the Florida Legislature.

Republican lawmakers pushing for Florida’s law have argued that parents, not teachers, should be the ones talking to children about gender issues in their early formative years.

The act drew scrutiny from Biden, who called it “obnoxious,” as well as other Democrats, who said it demonized LGBTQ people. It was sent to DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law.

Chapek apologized earlier this month for not coming forward more strongly and publicly against the bill, saying Disney officials worked behind the scenes to stop it. Chapek also announced a halt to all political donations in Florida and more support for groups campaigning against similar legislation in other states. Chapek reiterated those points in a company-wide discussion with employees on Monday.

Patricia Campos-Medina, co-director, said Disney has long been influential in Florida politics, tending to be conservative and supportive of Republicans who have taken control of Tallahassee, the capital of Florida. state, but also more open in social issues. of the Worker Institute at Cornell University. “That’s why people find it surprising that they want to stay silent on the matter,” she said.

The walk’s organizers argue that withholding political donations is not enough.

On a call-to-action website, the group said that until the law is repealed, Disney leaders need to stop investing in Florida, including relocating 2,000 mostly professional jobs from its headquarters. headquarters in California to Orlando. They also said that Disney needed to develop an LGBTQ brand similar to Onyx Collective, an initiative to develop content for people of color.

Power, the GOP official in Tallahassee, said he is confident that Disney and the Florida Republicans will overcome this flash point and ultimately restore their relationship.

“It is good that we are pushing back, because the purpose of a publicly traded company is not to advance an agenda,” Power said. “The people at Disney know they need to work with the Legislature and the governor, and they’ll be back.”

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Farrington reported from Tallahassee. AP writers Tali Arbel of New York and Amy Taxis of Orange County, California, contributed to this report.

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