Walt Disney World: The Happiest Place on Earth… Unless you’re not feeling well. That’s the word out of Florida, where the family-friendly entertainment resort is being slammed for blocking employees from receiving paid sick time.
That’s what the press is reporting, anyway. In truth, Disney World and other businesses are objecting to state legislation that would allow local governments in Florida to enact their own wage-and-benefits laws. Presumably, Disney’s lobbyists are arguing that, in addition to an inherent question of fairness, having to conform to potentially dozens of local laws would place an undue burden on their clients.
We use the word “presumably” because Disney has not commented on the matter and its position, if public, is nowhere to be found. As a result, the media is carrying only the messages of disgruntled employees, their unions, and a grassroots group called MomsRising that has taken the issue of guaranteed sick time national. Last week, a group of MomsRising activists who tried to deliver a petition to Disney’s corporate offices were turned away by security.
This isn’t Disney’s first tussle with employees. A few years ago, a union representing 25,000 Disney employees shot a film called Mouse Trapped 2010. In it, workers tell tales of earning less than $8 an hour after three years of service and having to go to local churches for handouts despite being employed full-time. It’s a small wage after all, and this latest news could bring ill will to Disney’s PR.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Disney World. One need only look to Walmart or Michael Moore’s film Roger & Me slamming General Motors to see what might be in store for the Magic Kingdom.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Silence may be golden, but it’s not always the right PR move. Once your name is in the headlines, it can pay to clarify your position. This is particularly true for a place like Disney World, a global powerhouse of a business built on fairy tales – being seen as being mean just doesn’t fit the brand. Disney may think it has bigger fish to fry than dealing with some squeaky wheels in Florida, but management would do well to recall the famous advice of U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill: “All politics is local.”