Disney lays off 28,000 workers as theme parks struggle to survive

After months of furlough, 28,000 Disney employees have been sent home permanently, according to a company statement released on Sept. 29.

Most of the employees affected worked part-time in the Disney’s Parks, Experiences, and Products unit.

“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 that we are taking will enable us to emerge a more effective and efficient operation when we return to normal,” said Josh D’Armo, chairman of Disney Parks. 

Disney closed the doors to its theme parks nationwide in March. As a result, the company’s profits, made mostly from theme parks and resorts, plunged by 91 percent, losing roughly $1 billion in operating revenue. 

Disney announced a furlough of non-union park employees and a stop on collecting payments for annual park passes. Employees continued to have access to health benefits throughout the furlough. 

Theme parks gradually reopened throughout the summer with social distancing requirements.  

Orlando-based Disney World reopened their doors to visitors in July, weeks after nearby Universal Studios and SeaWorld Orlando. Nearly half of Disney World’s unionized employees, roughly 20,000 workers, were called back as the resort reopened. The remaining 23,000 stayed on furlough. 

According to the New York Times, families are not traveling to Disney World as much as the company anticipated. Many are afraid to fly and want to cut costs due to safety protocols that limit the experience, such as limited dining options, fewer interactions with actors, shorter hours, mandatory face masks, and no fireworks for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the entire theme parks industry at large has been struggling to stay afloat. 

Universal Orlando recently informed Florida officials that roughly 5,000 workers furloughed earlier this summer would remain furloughed due to the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

Orlando-based SeaWorld also announced the furlough of 1,900 workers after a restructuring of its severance policy.

The Associated Press reported in August that King’s Dominion, a Virginia-based theme park, will not reopen in 2020 as the state’s social distancing measures limits the park to 1,000 visitors. 

Meanwhile, Disney planned on reopening their Anaheim, CA resort on July 17 to visitors, but was postponed indefinitely after the state of California failed to include guidelines for theme parks in their reopening measures. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom has faced scrutiny for theme parks remaining closed. 

In partnership with activist group Reopen Orange County Now, Anaheim Chamber of Commerce released an ad directly asking Gov. Newsom to reopen theme parks in the state. Orange County is home to both Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. 

California is home to a third of the nation’s largest theme parks. No large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks have been tied directly to theme parks in states where parks have reopened, according to the Orange County Register. 

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