Disneyland Layoffs Loom Large as State Prepares Reopening Plan for Theme Parks

October 5, 2020 Updated: October 6, 2020

The battle between Disneyland and California continues to mount as workers anticipate a long-term loss of employment and officials reckon with falling revenue.

Disney announced it would lay off 28,000 employees from its theme park division—over 12 percent of the company’s entire workforce—on Sept. 29. The move came after the state refused to allow theme parks to reopen due to the ongoing threat from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the announcement, workers at Disneyland in Anaheim have voiced concern over their contracts, which they say haven’t been modified in decades, while city officials have taken issue with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s continued refusal to reopen the parks for business.

Reopening guidelines for theme parks were expected to be released Oct. 2 by the state, but were postponed after an early draft was viewed by amusement park leaders, who urged further changes.

Union Braces for Looming Layoffs

Workers United 50, the Orange County labor union representing Disney’s Anaheim employees, announced on Facebook that 2,858 out of its 7,796 cast members (employees) were scheduled to be released as part of the layoffs.

Workers United 50 President Chris Duarte told The Epoch Times that the union’s goal is to protect its members’ benefits.

“Our hope is to make sure that the layoffs happen in a proper way, that it’s done fairly and in a way that it’s fair for all of the union members, and that we can protect as many of the rights and benefits as possible,” Duarte said.

He said the union is in the beginning stages of discussions with Disney regarding how employee contracts will be affected—because they are “very vague and old, because they were made back in the ’60s.”

“No one ever thought Disney was going to go out and lay off anyone. That’s never been a threat, so it’s never been something that either side has really engaged in,” Duarte said.

“The discussion on the language is all in the gray area” in the contracts, he said.

Disney Chairman Josh D’Amaro said “about 67 percent” of the layoffs are “part-time” employees at the company’s Parks, Experiences and Products segment. He said in a statement that Disney had “kept non-working Cast Members on furlough since April, while paying healthcare benefits.”

“We are talking with impacted employees as well as to the unions on next steps for union-represented cast members,” D’Amaro said.

Local 50 is one of the few unions that has full time Disneyland cast members on its list of layoffs, Duarte shared on Facebook. He said 436 full-time union cast members had been released.

The union’s members have 26 different contract classifications with Disney, in six distinct scheduling groups—a development that “greatly complicates the process,” according to Duarte’s post.

The official dissolution date of employment is Dec. 31 for union members that received layoff notices. But for 60 days—from Nov. 1 until the end of the year—members will continue to receive paychecks and benefits.

Duarte says it’s important that the employees, mostly food service workers, get the chance to return to their current positions when the park reopens.

“Section 20 also addresses the provision of ‘Recall Rights,’ where if a Cast Member is recalled within 12 months of the December 31st separation date, the Cast Member will be able to return with their current seniority,” Duarte wrote.

A recent bill vetoed by Newsom makes that provision questionable, however.

Assembly Bill 3216 (AB 3216) would have required employers to rehire laid-off employees based on a preferential system when job openings are available again. Newsom vetoed the bill on Sept. 30.

The California Chamber of Commerce celebrated the veto as a win for employers, citing its potential heavy burden on struggling industries.

“We thank Governor Gavin Newsom for his veto of AB 3216 … which would have delayed the rehire of thousands of employees and slowed the economic recovery of many employers who have been the hardest hit by this pandemic,” the chamber said in a statement.

“We are grateful that the Governor chose not to further burden these industries at a time when they can least afford it.”

Epoch Times Photo
A general view of the entrance of Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, Calif., on March 13, 2020. /(Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Anaheim Struggling Amid a Growing Budget Deficit

Mike Lyster, chief communications officer for the city of Anaheim, told The Epoch Times that with the closure of Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center, the city’s budget deficit is over $100 million.

The theme park is the city’s main source of revenue, Lyster said—especially when combined with the surrounding hotels, which have also been closed. He fears a protracted shutdown will have a domino effect on other businesses in Anaheim.

“Once you get to nearly seven months of the theme parks and the convention center being closed, businesses are at the point now where they have to make a decision,” Lyster said.

“They don’t have an idea of when we might begin a safe responsible reopening. Then they have to make decisions about what to do with employees, and we fear we will see many more layoffs to come.”

Lyster said the city fears the short-term recession could turn into an extended downturn, with more of the city’s businesses permanently closing.

He said reopening doesn’t have to be a decision between the economy and public health, because there’s a middle path. Face coverings, sanitation stations, social distancing, and temperature checks are protocols the park would implement if reopened.

“And we can do it, this middle path, where you’re stemming the spread of cases, you’re protecting workers, you’re protecting visitors, but you’re also beginning to restore the economy,” Lyster said.

He called the new protocols part of “our new normal.”

“It’s not flipping a switch, going back to where we were. But it’s a gradual reopening strategy that works to contain the virus, and then also starts to recover the economy,” he said.

Waiting for the State to Allow Parks to Reopen

County officials have been urging the governor to allow theme parks to reopen for weeks.

Orange County CEO Frank Kim wrote a letter to the governor, urging Newsom to allow Disneyland to reopen, prior to the layoffs.

“Disney Company theme parks have a proven track record of implementing stringent health and safety protocols as they’ve opened their parks around the world, at reduced capacities, with no adverse health impacts,” Kim wrote on Sept. 21.

“Downtown Disney in Anaheim has been open since mid-June with no recorded cases of COVID-19.”

Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, along with other county elected officials, held a news conference on the outskirts of Disneyland on Sept. 16 calling for the governor to reopen the state’s theme parks, citing the “economic crisis” facing the area.

Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger also resigned from Newsom’s economic recovery task force on Oct. 1 in protest of the governor’s position.

Disney Chairman D’Amaro said the prolonged impact of COVID-19 on the company’s business had been “exacerbated in California by the state’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.”

Newsom was expected to release the state’s guidance for reopening theme parks on Oct. 2. However, the California Attractions and Parks Association (CAPA), which represents the state’s theme parks, got an early look at the draft and urged the governor not to release it, according to ABC News.

Last month, CAPA released its own set of reopening plans. The document shows how actions taken by amusement parks meet the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy guidelines to limit risk and optimize safety for guests.

The document also states that the tourism industry is suffering “immense losses,” and travel-related spending is not expected to recover until 2024.

“Given the size and operational complexities of these unique sectors, we are seeking additional input from health, workforce and business stakeholders to finalize this important framework,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s top public health official, said in a statement, according to ABC.

A new release date for the framework was not announced.