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Disney announces thousands of layoffs as coronavirus pandemic continues

Unclear how many Central Florida Disney employees will be impacted

ORLANDO, Fla. – After a series of financially devastating months caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Disney is laying off thousands of employees, according to a statement from the company.

The company has announced it will lay off at least 28,000 U.S. employees, of which 67% are part-time, according to the statement.

The statement, from Disney Parks, Experiences and Products chairman Josh D’Amaro, attributes the layoffs to the prolonged financial impact of COVID-19.

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“In light of the prolonged impact of COVID-19 on our business, including limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements and the continued uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic -- exacerbated in California by the state’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen -- we have made the very difficult decision to begin the process of reducing our workforce at our parks experiences and products segment at all levels, having kept nonworking cast members on furlough since April, while paying healthcare benefits,” the statement said in part.

The layoffs were announced Tuesday, just two days before the start of a new fiscal year.

“Over the past several months, we’ve been forced to make a number of necessary adjustments to our business, and as difficult as this decision is today, we believe that the steps we are taking will enable us to emerge a more effective and efficient operation when we return to normal. Our cast members have always been key to our success, playing a valued and important role in delivering a world class experience, and we look forward to providing opportunities where we can for them to return,” D’Amaro said.

It’s still unclear how many of Walt Disney World’s more than 70,000 Central Florida employees will be affected by the layoffs.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, Disney has lost billions of dollars in revenue as its parks and resorts were shut down for months.

In May, shortly after the initial closures, Disney officials reported its second-quarter profit dropped 91% to $475 million, down from $5.4 billion a year earlier. Overall, the company said costs related to COVID-19 cut Disney’s pretax profit by $1.4 billion.

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In August, Disney reported a third-quarter loss of nearly $5 billion, a number that was actually better than analysts expected, according to the Associated Press.

Walt Disney World’s Orlando theme parks were shut down from March until June, when they began gradually reopening. Since then, its four major parks have reopened but only at limited capacity to allow the enforcement of social distancing measures as the pandemic continues.

The shuttered attractions also forced more than 70,000 Disney workers to be furloughed for months, with only some returning to work with the parks' phased reopenings.

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Ahead of the reopenings, a labor union official told News 6 it would still be a while before some Disney employees would be back on the job.

Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here Local 362, outlined the reopening plans in a video posted on the union’s Facebook page.

The union represents attractions employees, custodial, water slide operators, park greeters, auto plaza workers and vacation planners.

“(It) is a very different Disney World than you all worked at back in March, and it’s because of the need for safety,” Clinton told union members.

All full time attractions and custodial employees will be recalled, along with a “high number” of part-time union employees, according to Clinton.

“No seasonal worker will be working at Disney anytime soon,” he said. “If anyone thinks that college program workers are coming back anytime soon, they’re mistaken.”

That includes members of the international college program, which provides cultural representatives to the various nations represented at Epcot’s World Showcase pavilions.

“World Showcase attractions will be fully staffed by domestic attraction workers,” Clinton said.

Earlier this month, news broke that more than 1,100 employees from Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort would be terminated in November.

The company’s Central Florida water parks remain closed but Disney World officials said earlier this month they hope to reopen Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach in March.

Disneyland in California remains closed, according to the attraction’s website.

Other Central Florida theme parks have also suffered financially from the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, SeaWorld announced plans to permanently terminate some of its furloughed employees.

Universal Orlando employees have also faced layoffs, with more than 1,200 new ones announced early this month.

Prior to the pandemic, Walt Disney World employed more than 70,000 cast members, not including College Program and International Worker Program employees for World Showcase and Animal Kingdom. Disneyland Resort, which is home to two theme parks and three hotels, had roughly 30,000 cast members.

In an email to Disney cast members, Imagineers and other employees, D’Amaro called the layoffs the company’s “only feasible option" and said the decision was not an easy one to make.

“As you can imagine, a decision of this magnitude is not easy. For the last several months, our management team has worked tirelessly to avoid having to separate anyone from the Company. We’ve cut expenses, suspended capital projects, furloughed our Cast Members while still paying benefits, and modified our operations to run as efficiently as possible, however, we simply cannot responsibly stay fully staffed while operating at such limited capacity,” D’Amaro said in the email.

D’Amaro thanked employees for their understanding and discussed next steps to help workers with their transitions.

“Thank you for your dedication, patience and understanding during these difficult times. I know that these changes will be challenging. It will take time for all of us to process this information and its impact. We will be scheduling appointments with our affected salaried and non-union hourly employees over the next few days. Additionally, today we will begin the process of discussing next steps with unions. We encourage you to visit The Hub or the WDI Homepage for any support you may need,” he said. “For those who will be affected by this decision, I want to thank you for all that you have done for our company and our guests. While we don’t know when the pandemic will be behind us, we are confident in our resilience, and hope to welcome back Cast Members and employees when we can.”

Click here to learn more about how Disney is assisting employees affected by the layoffs.


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