A little more than 30 Walt Disney World employees gathered outside the complex’s shopping center in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on Friday afternoon to protest the company’s vaccine mandate.
The protest’s organizer, 16-year cast member Nick Caturano, told the Miami Herald he hopes the demonstration will spark a nationwide discussion about constitutional rights and medical privacy.
“People are free to get this vaccine if they feel it’s going to be the best thing for them,” he said, “but to force people to get the vaccine, that’s another story.”
Caturano told the newspaper he has heard from thousands of Disney employees, both in the U.S. and around the world, who have said they oppose the brand’s mandate but are fearful of losing their jobs if they speak up.
“I don’t want to lose my job,” he said. “I love my job, but I’m also more afraid that, if I don’t speak up now, where does it stop?”
Although he’s considered immunocompromised, Caturano said he is hesitant about taking a COVID-19 inoculation due to his natural immunity as well as his religious beliefs.
He said this week he’s “not comfortable” taking the shots.
“I just can’t see putting it in my body,” the Disney employee explained.
In a separate interview with WOFL-TV, Caturano said he and his Disney colleagues “understand that COVID-19 is a very real health concern that we all have to take seriously, but many cast members have a legitimate basis for refusing vaccination.”
“So many cast member felt alone and felt like they were the only ones who thought this was wrong,” he said of why he organized the protest. “I think we were made to feel that way on purpose. But we have connected now, and we are pushing back.”
The Friday march comes a little less than a month after Walt Disney World reached an agreement with unions to require COVID-19 vaccines for unionized cast members. About a month before that, Disney mandated all its salaried and non-union hourly staffers in the U.S. be fully inoculated against the virus.
Union workers and salaried employees have until Oct. 22 to be totally vaccinated.
As for Caturano, he is hoping the pressure he and his fellow cast members are putting on Disney will be enough for the company to reconsider its vaccine mandate.
Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced his administration will fine state and local officials $5,000 if they fire employees for not being vaccinated.