DISNEY SPRINGS, Fla. – Firefighters and emergency service providers working for Reedy Creek Improvement District, protested a stalled contract negotiations Sunday by picketing at the Disney Springs reopening.
The protest ran from 9 a.m. to noon with about 50 emergency responders participating.
The issue is the contract talks are now at impasse and awaiting a decision from a special magistrate over pay and health insurance, as well as cancer and wellness screenings.
"The new parking garage built for Disney Springs by the Reedy Creek government cost much more than treating their employees fairly," said Tim Stromsnes, president of the Reedy Creek Firefighters Association. "It says something about their priorities when they care more about a parking garage than the people they employ."
Stromsnes heads the labor association representing the firefighters, paramedics, dispatchers, and fire inspectors who provide fire protection and emergency medical services for all Disney owned properties, including the parks and resorts.
Stromsnes says that the emergency staff have been working without a contract for around a year and a half. Of major importance to the firefighters is adding in cancer and health screenings into the contract that they believe will save lives.
"Studies have shown that firefighters are more likely to be affected by cancer as well as heart and lung disease leading to an early death," Stromsnes said, adding, "If we can avoid that with simple and affordable screenings, why shouldn't we be able to agree to it? This is no way to treat your employees."
Stromsnes says the reason why the contract is being stalled is because the Reedy Creek government is owned by the Walt Disney World Corp.
"Being able to participate in the political process is an integral part to the collective bargaining process in Florida," Stromsnes said. "We are the only public employees who have no people to appeal to."
"If the Disney owned government does not want to work with us, they can impose the contract they want on us with no repercussions from actual voters."
In Reedy Creek, eligible votes are counted by acres owned. Disney World controls around 17,000 votes on its own, well over the 50 percent threshold to win any election.
"Instead of publicly elected leaders, our first responders are subject to a pseudo government controlled by a private company," Stromsnes said, adding, "How can Walt Disney World be such an iconically American company, but be so uniquely un-American with how they run the Reedy Creek Improvement District?"
"Protesting is our last resort for now. It is what we have been reduced to: begging on the street corner to be treated fairly. Disney can do better than this."