Disney Lays Off 28,000 Theme Park Workers Amid Pandemic Closures

Guests wear masks as required to attend the official reopening day of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., July 11, 2020. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

(CN) — The pandemic has hit “the happiest place on earth” as the Walt Disney Company announced on Tuesday 28,000 staff at its theme parks will be laid off due to closures from the novel coronavirus.

Disneyland and Disneyworld will cut employees at practically every level, including 67% of part-time employees.

Disney employs more than 100,000 people in its parks and resorts division. Park executives say they are in talks with union employees on what they can expect.

In a statement, Disney Parks chairman Josh D’Amaro addressed the “prolonged impact of Covid-19” on the theme park business, which he said has been “exacerbated in California by the state’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen” and said non-working employees have been on furlough since April.

“For the last several months, our management team has worked tirelessly to avoid having to separate anyone from the company,” D’Amaro said in a letter to employees explaining the layoffs. “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.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom earlier this month said state health officials would issue guidelines for allowing theme parks to reopen, which have been closed since March.

Earlier this week, California Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva sent a letter to the governor’s office asking for the “responsible reopening of California’s theme parks.”

“We ask your administration to provide the theme park industry with their guidance documents promptly so they can ensure their preparations are consistent with state expectations,” wrote Quirk-Silva who was joined by a bipartisan group of California legislators.

An email to the governor’s office for comment was not immediately answered.

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, a senior health advisor for the state of California in a statement said, “The COVID 19 pandemic has impacted the health and livelihoods of too many workers across this country. In California, our number one priority is to lead with public health to slow the spread of the virus to begin reopening our economy and get Californians back to work safely and sustainably.”

Without a vaccine it’s unavoidable that the virus would impact the state’s economy, Ghaly said, “but by taking a measured data- and science-based approach to phasing in and out transmission prevention protocols, we can minimize the health and economic risks that would be caused by opening and shutting repeatedly.”

As of Tuesday, California health officials have reported over 815,000 confirmed infections and over 15,000 people are dead due to the novel coronavirus since the onset of the pandemic.

Orange County, home to Disneyland, saw a slight spike in positive cases last week and health officials said that has kept the county in the most restrictive tier set by the state. The most recent data shows over 53,000 people in Orange County have tested positive for the virus and over 1,200 have died. On Wednesday, Orange County health officials reported 33 new deaths.

The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida reopened this past July with infection control measures. As of Wednesday, Florida health officials reported over 705,000 infections and over 14,000 people are dead due to the virus.

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