LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Board members chosen by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to oversee the running of Walt Disney World said Wednesday their Disney-controlled predecessors quickly met them by making restrictive agreements have deprived the new board of many of its powers.
Current chiefs of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District said at a meeting that their predecessors signed a development agreement with the company last month, giving Disney maximum development power over the 27,000 acres of the Central Florida theme park resort.
The five overseers were appointed to the board by the Republican governor after the Florida legislature overhauled the Disney government in retaliation for the entertainment giant publicly opposing so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation that banned classes about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten prohibits third grade and classes that are not considered age-appropriate.
By taking on Disney, DeSantis cemented his reputation as a culture warrior willing to battle perceived political enemies and wield state government power to achieve political goals, a strategy that is expected to continue ahead of his potential White House run .
The new regulators replaced a board that had been controlled by Disney for the previous 55 years and operated by the government as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The new board members held their first meeting earlier this month and said they learned of the agreement after their appointment.
“We have to deal with this and correct it,” said board member Brian Aungst on Wednesday. “It’s a subversion of the will of the voters and the legislature and the governor. It completely bypasses the power of government of this body.”
Separately, Disney World service workers voted Wednesday on whether to accept a wage offer from the union that would raise the starting minimum wage to $18 an hour by the end of the year.
The agreement covers approximately 45,000 service workers at the Disney theme park resort, including costumed performers acting as Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters, bus drivers, kitchen workers, lifeguards, theater workers and hotel housekeepers.
Union leaders said workers’ hourly wages could rise between $5.50 and $8.60 an hour by the end of the five-year contract, if approved.
A contract approved five years ago made Disney the first major employer in central Florida to agree to a minimum wage of $15 an hour, setting the trend for other workers in the region dominated by hospitality jobs.
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