ORLANDO, Fla. — Squeezed by limits on attendance at its theme parks and other restrictions due to the pandemic, The Walt Disney Co. said Tuesday it planned to lay off 28,000 workers in its parks division in California and Florida.
Two-thirds of the planned layoffs involve part-time workers but they ranged from salaried employees to hourly workers, Disney officials said.
Disney’s parks closed last spring as the pandemic started spreading in the U.S. The Florida parks reopened this summer, but the California parks have yet to reopen as the company awaits guidance from the state of California.
In a letter to employees, Josh DÁmaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experience and Product, said California’s “unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen” exacerbated the situation for the company.
DÁmaro said his management team had worked hard to try to avoid layoffs. They had cut expenses, suspended projects and modified operations but it wasn’t enough given limits on the number of people allowed into the park because of social distancing restrictions and other pandemic-related measures, he said.
“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,” he said.
California’s health secretary on Tuesday said the state was close to working out a way to have the theme parks reopen in a responsible way.
“We know that a number of Californians are eager and wondering when that is coming, and we’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,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California Health and Human Services.
Disney officials said the company would provide severance packages for the employees, where appropriate, and also offer other services to help workers with job placement.
Officials with the union that represents the actors who play Disney characters at the theme parks said they were having conversations with Disney officials about how they would be impacted, according to Actors’ Equity Association.
Officials with the Service Trades Council Union, which represents 43,000 workers at Disney World in Florida, said they were having similar conversations.
“We were disappointed to learn that the Covid-19 crisis has led Disney to make the decision to layoff Cast Members,” the coalition of six unions said in a statement.
About 950 workers from Unite Here Local 11 in California will be laid off starting Nov. 1, union leaders said.
Disney officials didn’t offer a breakdown of the layoffs between the Florida and California operations. Walt Disney World in Florida has around 77,000 employees, while the Disneyland Resort in California has more than 30,000 workers.
With its parks closed due to the pandemic in April, Disney furloughed up to 43,000 workers while still paying for their health insurance at its Florida resort. It brought many of them back after it reopened in July. Furloughed workers in California also received health benefits.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, a Democrat from Orlando, said the layoffs showed the need for more coronavirus-related relief from Congress.
“These layoffs show yet again how desperately that assistance is needed by American households and businesses,” Demings said.
Associated Press writers Adam Beam in Sacramento, California, and Amy Taxin in Orange County, California, contributed to this report.
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Mike Schneider, The Associated Press