Disney Stalemate With California Keeps Up as One Union Details Layoff Impact

Disneyland - People stand outside the gates
DAVID MCNEW/AFP via Getty Images

People stand outside the gates of Disneyland on the first day of the closure of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure on March 14.

The California Attractions and Parks Association asked the governor to not finalize a draft of the reopening guidance CAPA had previewed.

The Happiest Place on Earth will remain one of the most vacant places on Earth as there appears to be no end to a shuttered Disneyland in sight. Despite the conglomerate pleading with California officials to issue guidance for the reopening of the popular destination, Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state health officials have not yet budged.

Now one union is detailing how much it was rocked by the 28,000 Parks department layoffs that Disney unveiled on Sept. 29. Workers United Local 50, which represents food and drink castmembers at Disneyland, posted a notice that 2,858 of its members were to be laid off, which included 436 full-time employees.

"As far as blame, I would imagine that government is not the sole reason for the action of layoffs but wouldn’t deny that not getting guidance did not play a roll," Workers United Local 50 president Christopher Duarte told The Hollywood Reporter about the layoffs.

And while Newsom previously alluded to the state working on a plan for theme parks around the state to reopen, there has been no guidance publicly unveiled. But it seems there is something in motion. The California Attractions and Parks Association on Oct. 1 urged the governor to not finalize a draft of the reopening guidance CAPA apparently previewed.

“While we are aligned on many of the protocols and health and safety requirements, there are many others that need to be modified if they are to lead to a responsible and reasonable amusement park reopening plan,” the association wrote in a statement. “We ask the Governor not to finalize guidance for amusement parks before engaging the industry in a more earnest manner, listening to park operators’ expertise, and collaborating with the industry on a plan that will allow for amusement parks to reopen responsibly while still keeping the health and safety of park employees and guests a top priority.”

The specifics about what is in the plan CAPA took exception to remains unclear.

Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu on Friday implored Newsom to offer guidance for Disneyland's and the convention center's reopening. “There is too much at stake. We need attainable guidelines that allow our theme parks and convention center to safely reopen to get people back to work and restore our economy,”  Sidhu said via Twitter. “My invitation still stands for Gov. Newsom to visit Anaheim and see the impact firsthand.”

Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences & Products made clear in September that the company was impatiently waiting for word from the state about a plan to reopen. Furthermore, he said then that failure to agree on terms would result in consequences, such as impacts on the local economy and staff reductions. Then 28,000 layoffs were announced and Disney executive chairman Bob Iger left the state's economic task force.

Newsom and state officials did not blink and in response to news of the staff reductions, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly, a senior health advisor for the State of California, said in part, "Without a vaccine, it is impossible to eliminate the economic impacts caused by this virus, but by taking a measured data- and science-based approach to phasing in and out transmission prevention protocols, we can minimize the health and economic risks that would be caused by opening and shutting repeatedly.”

Every county in California is assigned to a tier based on its test positivity and adjusted case rate, which is what the state is using to allow businesses to reopen. Some counties have moved into tiers that allow more businesses to reopen. Orange County's current tier allows for indoor shopping and outdoor dining, which is how the Downtown Disney shopping and dining district is allowed to operate. And Downtown Disney has proven that guests will flock to the theme park once it is reopened.

Since reopening in early July (with strict new health and safety measures in place) Downtown Disney has on multiple occasions over weekends — including last weekend — had to temporarily close parking lots in order to tamp down the flow of people coming into the area to ensure the new (undisclosed) capacity is not exceeded.

Moodys senior vp Neil Begley tells THR he does not see the stalemate or conflict between the company and state as having an additional impact on Disney's bottom line beyond the loss of revenue from the theme park being closed.

"They [Disney] have accrued significant experience, starting in their park in China, and then in France and Florida,"  Begley says. "Over three months of experience is now in the book and there have been no significant if any outbreaks traced back to park attendance. This suggests that their guest practices and cleaning protocols are working well in my view, and the conditions in California (putting aside the smoke from the fires) are no worse than many of these other regions at this point."

Begley added, "I believe that the company is just seeking guidance as to what the conditions will be for reopening since it takes some advanced planning to conduct preparations, to call back employees and to train them. Also, in my view, the longer the park stays closed, the greater the risk that either furloughed employees are severed, or they find other work and Disney faces a problem finding cast members to bring back. From a PR perspective, as long as they put their wishes into this context, public perception will not be harmed."

Unite Here Local 11, which represents a portion of Disneyland's hotel and restaurant workers, recently took part in a caravan to the state capitol in an effort to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to immediately sign AB 3216, which would guarantee recall and retention for hospitality workers.

Of the current stalemate between Disney and the state, a Unite Here Local 11 spokeswoman told THR, "We're talking with Disney, hopeful we'll reach an agreement on all safety concerns soon."