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Eisner Visits in Charley's Wake

August 19, 2004|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Dressed in a yellow polo shirt, white pants, black sneakers and a Mickey Mouse baseball cap, he could have passed for a tourist.

But Michael Eisner wasn't on vacation Wednesday.

Instead, the Walt Disney Co. chief executive was on the job, praising his troops for their efforts to keep much of the Walt Disney World resort humming in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley.

"I just wanted to come and say what a great job you people did. We totally appreciate it," Eisner told about a dozen workers who were crammed into an employee lunchroom at the resort's Disney-MGM Studios with the CEO and his entourage.

Although the storm forced Disney to shut down Animal Kingdom for a day, it caused only minimal damage to the resort, which opened three of its parks the next morning after extensive cleanup efforts by employees.

In several informal meetings in the backstage area of Disney-MGM on Wednesday, Eisner peppered employees with questions: Where were you when the storm hit? Was your home damaged? How did guests respond the next day?

Responses ranged from polite to candid.

One worker described how she reported to work at 4:30 a.m., just hours after her previous shift, to help clean the park even though her own home was damaged.

On her way to Disney, she said, "I was stopped three times and told to go back home, and I said, 'No, Disney needs my help.' "

Another colleague brought up the delicate issue of contract talks between Disney and unions representing 21,000 full-time employees.

"It shows the dedication that we have to this company, and we'd like to be appreciated as well and in contract time we'd like to see a little better offer," she said.

"Oh. Oh," Eisner said, "We're not negotiating now."

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