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Disney blames 28,000 layoffs on prolonged COVID-19 rules in California and Florida

Published Sep 29th, 2020 7:39PM EDT
Disney parks
Image: AP Photo/Chris Carlson

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  • The Walt Disney Co. announced on Tuesday that it’s laying off 28,000 employees as a result of Disney parks in California and Florida remaining either closed or their capacity capped because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • In a statement, a Disney executive singled out California for particular blame, since Disneyland is not even allowed to be open at all there, compared to open with a capacity limit at the company’s Florida theme park.
  • Disney quickly closed its theme parks earlier this year just as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to take hold in the US.

The coronavirus pandemic is still raging across the US, putting business from small mom-and-pops all the way up to corporate giants like Disney in an at-times impossible position. Coronavirus-related restrictions that, for example, put a cap on how many customers a business may serve at any one time are decimating the finances of many such businesses — and, accordingly, The Walt Disney Co. announced on Tuesday that some 28,000 employees in its Disney parks division in California and Florida are getting pink slips.

The company’s parks can’t stay closed or, for those that are open, capped indefinitely, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products chairman Josh D’Amaro explained in a memo sent out to employees. That’s a reference to the fact that Disney quickly shuttered its parks in the spring, as the coronavirus crisis was just starting to take hold. Its parks in Florida have reopened, but that’s not yet the case in California, which speaks to the distinctive paths both of those states have taken in responding to COVID-19. Florida, run by a Republican governor, has been aggressive about pushing the state to reopen and return business to at least a degree of normalcy, while in California, led by a Democratic governor, the onus has been on aggressive public health measures like strict closure orders.


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“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,” D’Amaro’s letter reads. “However, we simply cannot responsibly stay fully staffed while operating at such limited capacity.

“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.”

In the statement below from D’Amaro that’s separate from his letter to employees, he particularly singles out the state of California, saying that the financial issues facing the company have been “exacerbated” by the “state’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.”

Most of the 28,000 layoffs announced Tuesday involved part-time workers. But Disney said they do affect employees at all levels, meaning that salaried and hourly employees are included in this number, as well.

It’s not known how many workers would lose their jobs between Disney’s Florida and California operations, according to The Associated Press. But what is known is that Walt Disney World in Florida employees about 77,000 people, per the AP, and the Disneyland Resort in California has more than 30,000 employees.

Disney furloughed up to 43,000 workers earlier this year and paid for their health insurance at its Florida resort. Many of those workers were brought back in July when it reopened.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.