Walt Disney World to Layoff 28,000 Employees Due to Coronavirus Pandemic

Image by Eduardo Romero from Pixabay 

The Walt Disney Company announced it will lay off about 28,000 workers at two theme parks, including Disney World in Orlando. The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) said Florida has lost 76,746 hotel jobs since March. This accounts for 40 percent of the state’s hotel workforce. Disney World employs 77,000 people, and Disneyland has about 30,000 workers. No notice of mass layoffs had been filed with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO) previously.

The company blamed prolonged closures and capacity limits at open parks for the layoffs. While Disney’s theme parks in Florida, Paris, Shanghai, Japan and Hong Kong have been able to reopen with limited capacity, both California theme parks have remained shuttered. 

“As you can imagine, a decision of this magnitude is not easy,” Josh D’Amaro, head of parks at Disney, wrote in a memo to employees on Thursday. “Disney’s coronavirus woes have been “exacerbated in California by the State’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen,” D’Amaro said.

Attendance at all parks that have reopened amid the coronavirus pandemic has generally been disappointing. Florida’s Walt Disney World, which was already operating its four theme parks with reduced hours, moved to an even shorter daily schedule this month. 

HDG Hotels’ Chief People and Culture Officer Lisa Lombardo said many employers used the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to pay furloughed workers and keep them off state unemployment rolls. AHLA CEO Chip Rogers estimated $150 billion in PPP money has not been spent because of restrictions and most of the $454 billion expected to be leveraged into $4 trillion in loans through the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program also has gone untouched.

In announcing layoffs at Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in California, D’Amaro didn’t specify how many jobs at each park would be affected other than to say two-thirds of those laid off will be part-timers. Part-time cast members made up much of the labor force for these programs, according to Len Testa, park expert and co-author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.” The dismissal of the part-timers was the majority of the 28,000 layoffs.

On top of the coronavirus restrictions and employee layoffs, events that typically draw large crowds are going “on hiatus” for this year, like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Candlelight Processional at Epcot, which is in line with social-distancing measures.

On Wednesday, September 30, Disney World announced that it will also lay off nearly 6,700 non-union workers in December. The layoffs will start December 4, according to notices the company filed with the state of Florida, and so far affect nonunion workers, according to the notices. The notices did not, however, provide a breakdown of which positions would be affected.

Disney World reopened its theme parks in mid-July with added safety measures and capacity limits. Thousands of workers were brought back, but thousands more who have been furloughed since April were still waiting to get called back to work. About 20,000 union workers, half of its unionized employees, were called back. D’Amato called the layoffs “the only feasible option” after airline travel has been down and California officials are still not allowing Disneyland to reopen, even if restrictions were to be in place.

Disney’s layoffs will further affect the state and Orlando’s $75.2 billion tourist economy. According to the Central Florida Economic Development Council, the region’s three theme parks, Disney World, Universal and SeaWorld, brought in more than $5.8 billion in tax revenue last year. The parks also lure more than 75 million local and out-of-state visitors and help sustain 463,000 jobs for Orlando residents.