Disney World Furloughing 43,000 Workers

Walt Disney World in Florida plans to furlough about 43,000 workers after it closed last month because of the coronavirus pandemic, the company and a union coalition representing the workers said.

In mid-March, Disney theme parks worldwide closed, including Disney World in Florida and Disneyland Resort in California.

The furloughs, which are set to begin on April 19, were part of an agreement between Disney World and the Service Trades Council Union, a collection of six unions representing the 43,000 workers at the theme park resort in Florida.

“This is a decision that the union doesn’t like,” Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here Local 362, said on Saturday in a Facebook Live announcement. “However, it’s within the company’s right to lay off and furlough employees in this situation.”

He noted that a furlough generally would have an end date but in this case it does not because of the uncertainties about when the coronavirus crisis will end.

The workers, who are expected to be called back to their jobs, will be able to keep their health benefits during the furlough period. Also, they will not lose their seniority or have their pay reduced, Mr. Clinton said on Sunday. The workers earn $13 to $20 an hour, he said.

The union represents employees, known as cast members, in various jobs, including as theme park attendants, custodians, vacation planners, housekeepers, bus drivers and monorail workers. “Anything service-related,” Mr. Clinton said.

The employees will be immediately eligible to enroll in state unemployment benefits. The company has agreed to provide members who have health care benefits with free health care for a year.

About 200 employees who are considered essential workers will remain on the job, including those in housekeeping, custodial and lake patrol positions.

Walt Disney World, which includes Animal Kingdom, the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot theme parks, employs about 77,000 people, according to the union. Disney World draws an average of more than 52 million visitors a year.

In a statement on Sunday, the company confirmed the furlough agreement with the union.

“We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the Service Trades Council Union that will maintain members’ health insurance benefits coverage, educational support and additional employee assistance programs during a temporary furlough effective April 19,” the statement said.

It was not clear how long the furlough would last or when Disney World would reopen. The company said employees would be able to return to work “when our community recovers from the impact of Covid-19.”

The company has reached similar agreements with other unions that represent security guards, facility workers and musicians who perform at its theme parks, The Associated Press reported.

The company also said it would furlough executive, salaried and hourly nonunion employees whose jobs were not considered essential, The A.P. reported.

It was not clear how many Disney employees in all would be furloughed. A company representative was not immediately available for comment on Sunday.

Estefania Villadiego, who runs some of the attractions at Fantasyland, said she appreciated some of the benefits that she would keep under the agreement.

“It was a relief to know that the union got these amazing agreements and that we are going to keep our health insurance,” Ms. Villadiego, 29, said. She lives with her husband, who is a plumber, and their 10-year-old daughter.

Because her husband is still working and visiting homes, she worries about the coronavirus. As part of the agreement, Disney will pay for coronavirus testing for employees enrolled in the company’s insurance.

“In case something happens, I know that we are protected and we are able to get the tests and treatments necessary,” she said.

The furloughs come amid huge job losses nationwide related to the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused businesses to close and people to stay at home. More than 16 million Americans have lost their jobs amid the outbreak.

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