Disney delays moving SoCal jobs to Florida amid DeSantis fight

Walt Disney Co. has delayed the relocation of some employees to Florida to coincide with the expected completion of the company’s new campus in the Orlando community of Lake Nona, a spokesperson said Wednesday.

The company in July 2021 said it planned to move some 2,000 staffers, including many theme park designers and consumer products workers, to central Florida to take advantage of some $570 million in tax breaks. The move was expected to take 18 months, the company said at the time.

However, the new offices have taken longer to finish than expected, and Disney anticipates an opening date of 2026, representing a roughly three-year delay.

Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler told The Times in an email that, while many employees have already made the move, the company wanted to “continue to provide flexibility to those relocating, especially given the anticipated completion date of the campus is now in 2026.”

“Therefore, where possible, we are aligning the relocation period with the campus completion,” Wahler said.

The delay comes amid an ongoing feud between Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the state’s controversial Parental Rights in Education law, which opponents have called anti-LGBTQ legislation. The law bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Gay and trans advocates deride it as a “don’t say gay” bill.

Disney denounced the law after its Chief Executive Bob Chapek faced mounting pressure from employees to speak out. DeSantis blasted the company as a “woke” corporation, and the state Legislature voted to strip Disney of its unusual self-governing privileges in the district that includes Walt Disney World.

DeSantis is widely considered to be a possible presidential candidate in 2024.

When asked whether the relocation holdup was related to the DeSantis dispute, the Disney spokesperson said it was not.

But Disney’s explanation did not deter many observers of the company from believing that the move was tied to politics. Jim Shull, to form Disney Imagineer, tweeted that the delay appeared to be an example of Disney “sticking it to” DeSantis and a “result of Californians stating they won’t move to Florida.”

WDW News Today, which covers Disney theme parks, was first to report the delay.

As plans were being put in place for the move, Disney employees were offered moving assistance to relocate. Those who chose not to move risked losing their jobs.

Some, including theme park designers known as Imagineers who work in Glendale, were not happy with the prospect of moving, and the controversy in Florida made the relocation even less attractive, according to people familiar with the matter.

A group of employees who staged a walkout in protest of Chapek’s handling of the “don’t say gay” controversy demanded, in an open letter, that “no employee will be terminated when denying relocation” to Florida.

At the same time, the delay is sure to create yet more headaches for some employees, who have been making plans to move and have been selling their California homes.

The move is meant not only to benefit from Florida’s business-friendly tax incentives but also to consolidate Disney’s operations in the state and improve collaboration.

Times staff writer Hugo Martin contributed to this report.

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