The Walt Disney Co. announced Tuesday that is planning to lay off 28,000 workers domestically in its theme parks division as it struggles with the monthslong closure of Disneyland, and capacity limits and other restrictions at Walt Disney World — all due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Part-time cast members — Disney’s term for employees — will account for approximately 67% of the layoffs, according to Josh D’Amaro, the chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.
Disney initially shut down its U.S. theme parks last March in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
More than six months later, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks remains closed, although Downtown Disney was permitted to reopen again in July with major modifications.
Walt Disney World in Florida, meanwhile, began welcoming guests back over the summer, but it is still struggling with attendance limits as well as other restrictions.
“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,” D’Amaro said in a statement.
Non-working cast members have been furloughed since April, but the company was still paying for their health care benefits, D’Amaro wrote.
He also said that Disney will try and help provide laid off cast members with “opportunities where we can for them to return.” Talks are underway with both impacted workers and unions to determine the next steps for those with union representation, according to the statement.
Disneyland officials and the mayors of several Orange County cities recently called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to release guidelines that would bring theme parks closer to reopening in the Golden State, warning that a lack of action could lead to dire consequences for employees and local economies.
“Tens of thousands of people’s livelihoods depend on our ability to operate and we stand ready and willing to accelerate discussions with the Governor and his team to make ‘real progress’ toward our reopening and getting people back to work,” Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock said in a statement released about two weeks ago.
The city of Anaheim, where the resort is located, is facing a $100 million budget deficit. By mid-September, unemployment was already at 15%, with 25,000 people out of work and more job losses likely, according to Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster
On Sept. 8, Newsom indicated that he was “getting closer” to issuing guidance for theme parks; three weeks later, the state still has not released its framework.
However, California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly on Tuesday reiterated that the state is “very close” to issuing guidelines.
“We are 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,” he said at a news briefing that was held before the layoffs were announced.
The state is “not quite yet” ready to release the framework, but “getting very close,” Ghaly added.