September 29, 2020, 4:52 PM ·

The head of the Disney theme parks said this afternoon that Disney plans to lay off approximately 28,000 employees at its parks and associated businesses nationwide.

Josh D’Amaro, the Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, issued the following statement:

“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 non-working Cast Members on furlough since April, while paying healthcare benefits. Approximately 28,000 domestic employees will be affected, of which about 67% are part-time. We are talking with impacted employees as well as to the unions on next steps for union-represented Cast Members.”

The 28,000 domestic employees would come from Disney’s theme parks in Florida and California, the Disney Cruise Line, consumer products and publishing businesses, Walt Disney Imagineering, and associated management. The Disney Parks, Experiences and Products segments employs more than 170,000 cast members around the world, according to the company.

The Walt Disney World theme parks have been operating far below capacity since they reopened in July, due to the need to provide safe physical distancing between guests during the pandemic. While Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has cleared theme parks to resume normal operations “with limited physical distancing,” Disney has announced no changes to its Covid operating procedures.

In California, the state has not yet issued guidance on how theme parks could reopen in the state, though other parks have resumed limited operations under guidance issues for other industries, including zoos, dining, retail, and museums. Disneyland’s Downtown Disney shopping and dining district has reopened with capacity-controlled operation, but Disney has kept its Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks closed until the state issues specific theme park guidance.

Disney’s layoff has not yet showed up on California’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) notice website, though rival Universal Studios Hollywood has filed notice of more than 1,200 permanent layoffs this month.

Again today, California state officials declined to say when they would issue guidelines for reopening theme parks in the state. California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly responded to the question:

“We’re working hard to get that out in a responsible way as soon as possible, so planning can be done by both the counties that are home to the theme parks, as well as the operators of those theme parks. We know that a number of Californians are eager and wondering when that is coming, and we’re working with those industries to put out something that’s thoughtful, allows us to maintain the rest of our framework in a strong way, and really follows those principles of slow and stringent to ensure those large activities are done responsibly. So not quite yet, but we’re getting very close.”

This is at least the third occasion in the past month that Dr. Ghaly or California Governor Gavin Newsom has said that the issuance of such guidance is coming “soon” or is “close.”

Meanwhile, thousands of Disney cast members are now losing their health benefits in the middle of a pandemic which shows no signs of ending soon. D’Amaro closed his note on a hopeful note, “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.”

But it’s hard to see the hope when case levels continue to rise in many states, and millions of Americans continue to see the pandemic as a partisan joke rather than a real public health issue that has killed hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens and debilitated many thousands more.

Update: The Service Trades Council Union that represents 43,000 cast members at the Walt Disney World Resort issued this statement:

“We were disappointed to learn that the Covid-19 crisis has led Disney to make the decision to layoff Cast Members.

“Unlike at the other theme parks and hotels in Central Florida, Disney workers have a voice at the table because of our Union. We have begun negotiations with the Company about this news and its impact to Union members. How many full-time and part-time Cast Members will be affected, how long health insurance and recall rights will continue and many other issues crucial to Cast Members are on the table.

“As soon as more information becomes available, we will notify our members.”

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