Unionized firefighters are waiting to receive cash stipends to make up for Disney perks ended by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ tourism oversight district.
About 200 unionized employees – more than half of the district’s workforce – haven’t gotten the $3,000 stipend because of a disagreement with the district over the benefit’s value, said Jon Shirey, president of the district’s firefighters union.
“We have had one bargaining session over the stipend, but it went nowhere,” he said.
The deadlock comes as administrator Glen Gilzean touts increased employee morale at the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District made possible through his “open door” policy and additional benefits. More than 40 of the district’s roughly 370 employees have resigned or retired since the state seized control in February.
The district’s board approved the stipend at their meeting in September.
“Under the current contract, the district cannot provide additional benefits without renegotiating the contract,” said Alexei Woltornist, a district spokesman. “Contract negotiations are currently underway, and we cannot comment further at this time.”
Union officials estimated the value of the Disney passes and discounts to be at least $5,000. The Disney perks program covered theme park entry for employees, their spouses and three guests, an employee familiar with the benefit said. The program also included discounts at Disney restaurants and hotels.
DeSantis’ hand-picked tourism oversight board took aim at the perk, calling it an “unethical” arrangement that exclusively benefited Disney over other businesses. But the board faced a backlash from some employees who said the theme park passes were a key factor in their decision to work there.
At this month’s meeting, Gilzean said employees would get two additional paid holidays — Veterans Day and the day before Thanksgiving — when outlining his efforts to boost employee morale. Those days are also subject to bargaining, so union members aren’t presently eligible for those paid holidays, Shirey said.
The Reedy Creek Professional Firefighters, the union led by Shirey, endorsed DeSantis’ re-election bid with the district’s future still in question. Formerly known as Reedy Creek, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District provides fire protection and other government services to Disney World.
Union officials praised DeSantis when he appointed the new board earlier this year. Shirey accused the previous Disney-friendly board and management of neglecting public safety by not addressing staffing and equipment shortages.
The new administration approved a union contract in July, ending about five years of negotiations and answering the governor’s calls to boost the pay of Disney World’s emergency workers.
Starting pay for a firefighter/paramedic will increase from $55,000 to $66,000 as part of the three-year agreement.
At their November meeting, board members approved a separate union contract covering battalion chiefs and captains that includes a 13% wage adjustment in 2024 and a 5% adjustment in 2025 and 2026.