Disney World slowly brings back more workers a year after thousands of employees faced furloughs

Furloughed workers hope vaccine rollout will allow parks to increase capacity to create more jobs at theme parks

It was one year ago, Central Florida’s largest employer Walt Disney World announced it would begin furloughing thousands of its non-unionized cast members.

ORLANDO, Fla. – It was one year ago, Central Florida’s largest employer Walt Disney World announced it would begin furloughing thousands of its non-unionized cast members.

Shortly after, the Service Trades Council Union said its 43,000 members would also be facing furloughs. One year later, News 6 is speaking to those cast members still out of work.

“It was unbelievable,” Bert Rodriguez. “It was unfathomable that a company with as much staying power as Disney would have been affected so much and how that affected literally tens of thousands of human beings.”

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Rodriguez was the original talking turtle Crush in Animal Kingdom’s Finding Nemo: The Musical and has been on stage on that show since the show opened in 2007. He was one of the thousands furloughed in April of 2020 and one of the many still not called back to Walt Disney World. He’s spent the last year, taking any theater job he can find.

“I’m scrappy,” he said. “It’s hard to look at my window and see Disney and know that was home for me. I’m sorry. It’s hard to look at that and know that not yet, not yet, but hopefully soon.”

The hope is there for Logan Benedict. He is also an actor and performer for several shows at Walt Disney World and is also part of the Actors Equity Union. He said he has seen Disney slowly adding back more castmembers.

“I can see people in customer services are coming back and they are hiring bus drivers, I can tell they are ramping up for something. We are all just patiently waiting for that entertainment,” Benedict said.

Benedict hopes with the vaccination rollout, Walt Disney World will increase capacity. In November, Walt Disney World said the parks were still operating at a 35% capacity. Benedict hopes if capacity is increased, then shows that are still in the dark will come back.

“If capacity is raised even 10% or 20% they are going to need the entertainment to take care of people, they are going to need Beauty and the Beast and Indiana Jones to hold guests and entertain them. I just don’t know how much longer can they operate without entertainment,” he added.

In fact, Disney is slowly bringing back some shows with the announcement it is bringing back a new Festival of the Lion King Show. That means, principal dancer for the role of Moto, Paolo Cervellera has already been called back to work.

“We are starting again. We don’t know the details now, but we what we know is that we are going back to work so that’s really exciting,” Cervellera said. “It’s a little bittersweet because I love to perform and I can’t wait to go back but at the same, a lot of my friends from other shows don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“We are ready, no one sat around and did nothing,” Rodriguez added with tears in his eyes. “We are hungry for the joy that is bringing Magic to people on stage.”