Disney firefighters face delay in receiving stipends amid benefit changes

November 21, 2023

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, formerly known as Reedy Creek, is currently facing a standoff with its unionized Disney firefighters over cash stipends intended to replace Disney perks that were recently discontinued.

This situation has emerged following the intervention of Gov. Ron DeSantis in the district’s tourism operations.

Unionized firefighters await stipends

About 200 unionized employees, representing over half of the district’s workforce, are yet to receive a $3,000 stipend.

The delay is due to a disagreement over the benefit’s value, according to Jon Shirey, president of the district’s firefighters union.

Shirey expressed dissatisfaction with the progress of negotiations, stating: “We have had one bargaining session over the stipend, but it went nowhere.”

Employee morale and administrative changes

Amidst these negotiations, Glen Gilzean, the district administrator, has emphasized an increase in employee morale through an “open door” policy and additional benefits.

However, more than 40 of the district’s approximately 370 employees have resigned or retired since state control was initiated in February.

The stipend was approved by the district’s board in September, yet the implementation remains uncertain.

Contract negotiations and benefits dispute

The district’s spokesman, Alexei Woltornist, clarified that additional benefits cannot be provided without renegotiating the current contract.

“Contract negotiations are currently underway, and we cannot comment further at this time,” said Woltornist.

The union has estimated the value of the discontinued Disney passes and discounts at a minimum of $5,000, covering theme park entry and other perks.

Backlash over discontinued perks for Disney firefighters

The oversight board, appointed by DeSantis, criticized the Disney perks as an “unethical” arrangement, favoring Disney over other businesses.

This decision, however, faced criticism from employees who viewed the theme park passes as a significant employment benefit.

Efforts to boost morale and union stance

In a recent meeting, Gilzean announced two additional paid holidays to enhance employee morale.

However, these holidays are subject to bargaining, leaving union members currently ineligible.

The Reedy Creek Professional Firefighters, led by Shirey, have supported DeSantis’ re-election, despite the uncertain future of the district.

Historical context and new administration

The district, which provides essential services like fire protection to Disney World, has been through significant changes recently.

A new union contract was approved in July, concluding five years of negotiations and increasing starting pay for firefighter/paramedics.

Additionally, a separate union contract covering battalion chiefs and captains includes significant wage adjustments for the upcoming years.

FSJA Comment

The ongoing dispute over stipends for firefighters in the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District underscores a critical juncture in employee-employer negotiations within the public service sector.

The removal of long-standing Disney perks, deemed unethical by the new administration, represents a significant shift in employee benefits, reflecting broader trends in public sector employment.

The firefighters’ union, a vital component of the district’s workforce, finds itself at a crossroads, advocating for fair compensation in the absence of previous benefits.

This scenario highlights the complexities of labor relations, particularly in environments undergoing administrative and policy transformations.

As the district navigates these challenges, the outcome of these negotiations will likely set a precedent for similar situations in other public service sectors, making this an issue of broader significance in labor relations.

Read Next

Subscribe Now