Worker tosses gas in fight at Disney hippo pond

A tussle between two workers in the hippo pond at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom early Thursday morning ended with one man doused in gasoline and the other in jail, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

The two men, employees of a Disney contractor, got into an argument while cleaning the pond at about 3 a.m. One of the workers, Stephen Kim, threw gas on the other man and struck a lighter at a distance, said Sheriff's Commander Lester Allen. The victim, who was not identified, backed away, prompting Kim to drop the lighter and pick up a shovel.

The victim fled and called the sheriff's department for help. He was not injured.

Kim, 34, of Melbourne, Fla., was booked into Orange County Jail on an aggravated assault charge.

A union official who represents some Disney World employees was quick to charge Thursday that the Animal Kingdom incident could be an example of why the unions are challenging Disney World's recent efforts to turn over cleaning jobs, and other jobs, to outside contractors.

In recent months, in federal unfair labor practice complaints and in public protests, Disney World unions have charged that the company's outsourcing efforts risk eroding worker quality at Disney World. The issue is a major negotiating point in the current talks for a new contract for the 21,000-member Service Trades Council Union. The outside contractors normally are non-union companies.

"This is an example of the kind of problem that Walt Disney World opens itself up to when it doesn't hire and train and supervise its own employees, but rather outsources work to outside vendors who may not have the same kind of commitment," said council president Morty Miller.

Disney World has argued that it needs to subcontract work in some areas for efficiency. The company also stated that it is insisting that such outside contractors follow the same rules and standards for hiring and supervision that Disney maintains for Disney employees. Disney World also has pointed out that, to date, less than 1 percent of the company's 60,000 jobs have gone to outside contractors.


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