September 29, 2020 at 4:31 pm PDT | by Brody Levesque
Disney lays off 28,000 Cast Members from theme park operations
Josh D’Amaro courtesy of the Disney Parks

BURBANK – The Chairman of the Burbank-based Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products Josh D’Amaro announced today that his division of Disney would be laying off 28,000 staff known in the company as Cast Members at Disney parks in Orlando and Anhaeim. D’Amaro placed the reason on the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic in both Florida and California, however he also took aim at the restrictions in California imposed by Governor Gavin Newsom to limit large gatherings.

Addressing California operations specifically his statement released Tuesday D’Amaro wrote; “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.”

At the outset of the pandemic in March Disney had furloughed nearly its entire workforce of 100,000. D’Amaro then noted, “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.

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,” he stated.

The Walt Disney Company for the 14th consecutive year this past January earned a perfect score of 100 on the 2020 Corporate Equality Index (CEI). The national bench-marking survey measures corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ workplace equality and is administered by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

The Blade reached out to a cast member who identifies as non-binary queer and works in a supervisory position at Disneyland in Anaheim. They spoke to the Blade on the condition of remaining anonymous about Tuesday’s announcement.

“The past six months have really sucked because the park has remained shuttered. The virus isn’t getting better- at least not in new infections especially here in Orange County. The state won’t let us reopen and this is hurting most of my friends who also work for the park,” they said. “The unemployment (insurance relief) is all screwed up too and many of us can’t pay rent- one friend lost his car this makes it worse like for the part-timers especially,” they added.

“Theme parks are not permitted to open in California at this time, under current public health orders,” said Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for Dr. Mark Ghaly the Secretary of California Health and Human Services said. “We will continue to review health data to determine when and how theme parks may consider reopening at lower risk to staff and visitors.”

In his weekly press conference, Dr. Ghaly told reporters, “As of September 29, California has 807,425 confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in 15,640 deaths.” He also noted that positivity numbers had been incrementally increasing over the past month.

Dr. Ghaly then referenced the California’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” program first implemented about a month ago, and he added that a new health equity metric would be introduced at some point in the future. Under California’s regulations, each county is assigned a tier based on their test positivity and adjusted case rate. Orange County, where Disneyland is located, is currently in the “Substantial” tier, and was not announced as one of the counties that would be moving to the “Moderate” tier. For counties in the “Substantial” tier, some non-essential indoor business operations are closed.

He was later asked about theme parks reopening since some parts of the park operations are inside while others are outdoor. The representative from the Wall Street Journal who asked this question also noted that Orange County is not moving the next tier, and wondered whether that makes things more difficult for places like Disneyland to reopen.

He responded by noting that they’re “working hard to get [theme park reopening guidelines] out in a responsible way as soon as possible so planning can be done by both the counties that are homes to the theme parks as well as the operators of those theme parks.” Dr. Ghaly also said they’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 following those principles of ‘slow and stringent’ to ensure those large activities are done responsibly. “Slow and stringent” are the principles that have guided California’s Governor Newsom’s reopening plans.

Earlier Tuesday D’Amaro sent out company wide email:

September 29, 2020

Team,

I write this note to you today to share some difficult decisions that we have had to make regarding our Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products organization.

Let me start with my belief that the heart and soul of our business is and always will be people. Just like all of you, I love what I do. I also love being surrounded by people who think about their roles as more than jobs, but as opportunities to be a part of something special, something different, and something truly magical.

Earlier this year, in response to the pandemic, we were forced to close our businesses around the world. Few of us could have imagined how significantly the pandemic would impact us — both at work and in our daily lives. We initially hoped that this situation would be short-lived, and that we would recover quickly and return to normal. Seven months later, we find that has not been the case. And, as a result, today we are now forced to reduce the size of our team across executive, salaried, and hourly roles.

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.

As heartbreaking as it is to take this action, this is the only feasible option we have 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.

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.

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.

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