Walt Disney Co. is laying off 28,000 U.S. employees

In this file photo, guests wear masks, as required, to attend the official re-opening day of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on Saturday, July 11, 2020. Even though theme parks begin their phased reopenings, some enjoyable elements are still missing. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
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By Gabrielle Russon Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Stricken by the coronavirus pandemic, Walt Disney Co. revealed Tuesday it is laying off 28,000 U.S. employees, including some at Walt Disney World.

Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said the layoffs are happening as the virus has hurt business, and because California has not lifted 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 at all levels,” D’Amaro said in a news release.

Disney did not provide a breakdown about how many employees are losing their jobs at Disney World and Disneyland. No notice of mass layoffs has been filed with the state of Florida, according to online records.

Of the 28,000 employees, about 67% are part-time employees, D’Amaro said, adding the cuts will affect executive, salaried, and hourly jobs.

At one point, the Disney empire of theme parks was closed around the world from the coronavirus pandemic, costing the company $2 billion last financial quarter. But as a company, Disney has generated $50 billion in profit over the past five years.

Disney World reopened in mid-July after a shutdown dating back to mid-March. Last week, D’Amaro held a virtual press conference with the news media to put pressure on the California government to lift the restrictions, saying tens of thousands were dependent on the theme parks for jobs.

In a letter to employees, D’Amaro called the layoffs “the only feasible option.”

“For the last several months, our management team has worked tirelessly to avoid having to separate anyone from the company. 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, 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.”

The Actors’ Equity Association, one of several unions that represents Disney workers, said staff members are in discussions with Disney to learn the impact of Tuesday’s layoff announcement.

“Performers working on Equity contracts will hear more from the union as soon as the union has more information,” according to an Equity press release. “The union will prioritize making sure performers are protected with all relevant provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.”

The pandemic has slammed Central Florida’s economy, leading to its unemployment rate being the highest in the state at 11% in August.

Across Orlando’s theme parks, SeaWorld permanently laid off 1,900 furloughed workers at its three Orlando properties this month. Universal also disclosed it is furloughing nearly 5,400 employees indefinitely.

As the Disney news broke Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., issued a statement saying, “Like so many others over recent months, these layoffs will be devastating for countless people. It’s up to all of us to step up and help in every way we can.”

She urged people in need to reach out to her office for assistance.

“We will be working with government and civic partners to provide as much support as possible to these workers and their families, and to all those who are out of work through no fault of their own,” Demings said. “I also once again call on Senator McConnell and Senate Republicans to stop stonewalling and allow a vote on our emergency COVID relief legislation. These layoffs show yet again how desperately that assistance is needed by American households and businesses.”

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(Orlando Sentinel staff writer Jason Garcia contributed to this report.)
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