CEO Bob Chapek’s pending contract renewal complicates matters as he largely drives the relocation of thousands of workers
Despite Disney’s decision to push back its decision to relocate 2,000 employees in the Disney Parks Experience and Products division from 2023 to 2026, current Imagineers and other DPEP employees said the culture of anxiety and unease remains.
“It’s pure chaos,” one current employee told TheWrap. “It really is.”
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Many employees have already begun the relocation process and others — many of them reluctant to move to what they consider a socially regressive state that recently passed the notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law restricting the discussion of LGBTQ+ subjects in schools — say they are now stuck in a state of limbo.
Imagineers, the legendary creative team behind theme parks, attractions, cruise ships and retail outposts, have been the most outspoken about the relocation mandate. And many said that they have been offered no extension or pause once Disney has issued a 90-day relocation notice — to either say yes to the move and relocate, or no and look for employment elsewhere in the company (or, barring that, outside the company).
“The second you say ‘yes,’ the gears start turning,” one employee said. But if you had previously said “no” but are now reconsidering given the new timetable, the onus is on the employee to reach back out to HR to negotiate a solution, insiders said. In many cases, that employee’s role has already been filled in Florida — and off-site HR specialists hired to handle the overflow of cases are often proving unresponsive and unhelpful.
Representatives for Disney did not respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment.
Disney blamed the postponement of the division-wide move in part on construction delays of its new campus in the planned community of Lake Nona, Florida — a location approximately 20 miles from the Disney World Resort in Orlando. “While a growing number of our employees, who will ultimately work at the campus, have already made the move to Central Florida, we also want to continue to provide flexibility to those relocating, especially given the anticipated completion date of the campus is now in 2026,” Disney spokesperson Jacquee Wahler told TheWrap last week. “Therefore, where possible, we are aligning the relocation period with the campus completion.”
But that flexibility isn’t being felt by many of the affected workers. If an employee has already been pressured to make a decision about relocation, the company is not allowing them to reconsider, or to slow down their planned move — a decision that employees call “curious” and “bizarre.”
When the move to 2026 was announced last week, one insider said, “A lot of people were pissed.” As one former employee remarked, “This is messing with people’s lives and school plans.”
According to one current employee, the postponement will offer “more flexibility” for those who have already said yes. Others who agree to the move may have more time to line up another job before hiring the moving vans, while members of senior leadership who survived several waves of pandemic layoffs will have additional time to contemplate “retirement.” Everything else remains exactly as it was. And that’s the problem.
There’s also the X factor of Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s future at the company. His tenure as CEO has largely been defined by a series of blunders and PR nightmares, including his response to the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill which led to the Imagineers’ push for Chapek to either pause or reverse his plans for Lake Nona.
A champion of the division’s move to Florida, Chapek was emboldened by a nearly $600 million tax break from the Sunshine State and the bad taste of what he saw as California governmental overreach keeping Disneyland in Anaheim closed for more than 400 days during the pandemic. (At least one insider suggested that the Florida tax break could be in jeopardy given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ continued public war against the company, including signing into law a bill revoking Disney’s special tax privileges and self-governing status in the state.)
As more than one person reiterated, the move from 2023 to 2026 reinforced what many already felt: “You cannot trust Bob Chapek.”
Chapek’s ground has never been shakier, even after he ousted potential competitors for his position (sorry, former TV boss Peter Rice). His contract is up in February 2023 — a topic that he is likely to press the Disney board to address in a meeting scheduled for later this month. If Chapek secures a contract extension (as most believe he will), then there’s virtually no chance that the relocation will be reversed, no matter the outcry.
Walt Disney Imagineering, for many the crown jewel of the entire company (and the keystone for the entire DPEP division), was originally slated to vacate its Glendale, Calif., headquarters by the spring of 2023, even though the Lake Nona compound won’t be completed by then. A new timetable for that specific part of the DPEP decampment hasn’t been revealed. (The wholesale relocation of Imagineering from the Glendale campus, a historic site of nearly mythic proportions, remains one of the most contentious aspects of the move.)
A number of key Imagineers like Kevin Lively, who was responsible for the recent, warmly received revamp of the Jungle Cruise, chose to quit last year instead of agreeing to the original 2023 move to Florida.
And despite appeals from a large group of Imagineers earlier this year seeking to halt the relocation order amid public outcry over Chapek’s handling of the state’s ”Don’t Say Gay” bill in the state, the company is plowing ahead with expanding its Florida workforce, which currently numbers about 60,000.
But for a division whose workers are currently split between two states, the situation has become almost comically untenable. “There are some people already in Florida who think they’ll never see the campus,” one current DPEP employee said.