Technically speaking, the Central Florida Liaison Area includes members and theaters as far north as Gainesville, as far west as Tampa/St. Pete, and as far east as Vero Beach (though not quite so far south as to reach Sarasota, Ft. Myers, or Naples.) Such are the geographic realities of a region as theatrically-dense as Florida, and the limitations of a hard and fast 100-mile radius. I spent some time addressing the needs and concerns of members living in the southern half of Florida in my writings on the South Florida Liaison Area, and I encourage you to give them a read. In this piece however, we're going to be far more specific. We're going to talk about Orlando.
Equity has three "Office Cities" in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. It's where our three Regional Directors are based, it's where the majority of our staff works, and they're located in our three most populated Equity markets. But many members might not know that we have an office in Orlando, too. It's small—yet mighty—and it exists because of that great behemoth of an Equity employer known as Walt Disney World.
Organizing the Disney parks in Orlando is one of the great success stories in the union's history, and it's certainly paid off. In the most recently reported season, our contract with Disney World accounted for more than 12,000 workweeks, and nearly $14 million in earnings. All in a Liaison Area with fewer than 1000 Equity members. To put that in some context, that's nearly triple the earnings from all of the Chicago Area Theaters contracts worked in that same year. It's a massive operation, and it requires a lot of care.
The Disney World Agreement itself is unlike any other that the union has, which shouldn't be a surprise. The model is entirely different from what the rest of us in the industry are used to—number of performances per day, working multiple shows and roles simultaneously, indoor and outdoor stages, and an intricate and complicated coverage system—and it can be quite confusing. As Eastern Regional Vice President, it's part of my job to have a firm grasp of the various contracts overseen by my Regional Board, so I've spent quite a lot of time poring over the Disney rulebook. But without question, it's known best by the members who work it, which is why my time spent interacting with stage managers and actors in Orlando is always so valuable to me.
Not long before the COVID shutdown, I was able to travel to Orlando to attend the Central Florida annual Membership Meeting, as well as a meeting of our Theme Parks Committee. It was my first time in the Orlando office and meeting much of its staff, and the time spent there was very enlightening. I left with three major takeaways:
Our workers at the Disney Parks are eligible for health coverage from Disney itself—not from the Equity-League Funds like the rest of our membership—and that coverage is a major perk of being a regular full-time employee of the company. That said, due to the unique nature of the working model, a significant portion of our workforce are not full-time, and are left ineligible for coverage. Especially now—when healthcare is a top priority for so many—seeking to achieve at least the possibility of health coverage for part-time workers at the parks should be a top priority for the union in the next negotiating cycle. It is a concern that's been shared with me by many members, and I'm committed to help seeing it through.
Second, I'm committed to renewing an organizing push for other theme park properties in Florida. The strength of our union and our relationship with Disney is what allowed us to secure favorable terms for our workers in this time of shutdown. It's time for a renewed commitment from the union to ensure that workers at all theme parks have those same protections of a union and a contract. This is a long-term project with long-term rewards, and there's no better time to start than the present.
Finally, the vast majority of non-Disney theatrical work in the area in being produced on the Orlando Area Theater (OAT) Contract. This is a pre-paid contract (much like Special Appearance and Guest Artist) that lacks the benefits and protections of a full Equity agreement. Additionally, because producers who use this contract have no obligation to continue to use Equity stage managers or actors, it creates great disincentive for our members to seek to negotiate above minimum, or to even contact the union when rules are being broken.
I believe firmly in a need for a better model for independent theaters, that will not only smooth the path to organizing more workplaces, but create agreements that are more attuned to the specific needs of members and employers alike in the Orlando Area. A national union needs to be able to meet local needs, and a new model for negotiation with these producers has the potential to be a real game changer for our union.
I look forward to working towards all of these goals in my next term as Eastern Regional Vice President, and look forward to hearing and learning more from the members of Orlando and Central Florida about how Equity can make your lives better.