The first wave of Walt Disney World employees will be back at the park on Saturday to get a portion of the Florida resort ready for its partial reopening on May 20. The theme park has been shuttered since mid-March due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in more than 100,000 employees company-wide being furloughed. But in three days, 117 custodians will return to work.
Eric Clinton, president of UNITE HERE, Local 362 on Wednesday told The Hollywood Reporter that park staff have a “mixed bag of emotions” about returning to work: Potential infection is a major concern, but so is not being able to pay rent.
“Some are anxious to get back because the unemployment system [in Florida] is completely broken,” Clinton said. On May 20, only sub-contracted shops will be open in the Disney Springs shopping and dining complex. The next phase will start seven days later when Disney retail shops, such as World of Disney Store, and Disney eateries reopen, the union president said. For that, an additional 59 custodians will report back to work on May 24.
Disney is treating the safety of both guests and employees with the utmost seriousness, explained Clinton, highlighting some of the precautions that will be put in place. All guests and employees will be required to wear masks. Disney will provide employees with three washable masks. Guests will have their temperatures checked, and plexiglass dividers have been installed at registers. Guests will swipe their own payments cards, as they will no longer be handled by employees. And custodians will be retrained to pay attention to high-touch areas.
In addition, park employees will do self-assessments at home for symptoms of the virus before their shift, the company providing thermometers, Clinton told THR. No discipline will occur if employees miss work due to possible illness. What’s more, any park employee who contracts the virus will be paid up to two weeks to quarantine, he said.
Clinton would not speculate about when the rest of the resort, namely the theme park itself, might reopen, but he did point to the Monday reopening of Shanghai Disneyland Park, noting “what you see there is a lot of what you’ll see here.” The sprawling China park requires all guests and staff wear masks, has line queues and rides marked for one-meter social distancing and is allowing far fewer guests daily (below 24,000) than the maximum capacity, which is 80,000.
Disney has also developed new global training for park employees to inform them about health and safety amid the pandemic, Clinton said. The company will also hold monthly safety meetings, with which the union will be involved.
For now, there have been no announcements about any part of Disneyland in Anaheim reopening. Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek on Monday said it was still unclear when the domestic parks would reopen, as the decision would rely on state and local restrictions being lifted.
“We want to open up as soon as we can across the world, but we are going to do so in a responsible way,” said the exec. “We want to get our cast back to work as soon as possible.”
NBCUniversal on Tuesday announced that Universal Studios Orlando would partially reopen later this week. The Florida destination, along with the Hollywood theme park, has, like Disney, been shuttered since mid-March.
The CityWalk portion will reopen on Thursday, with select venues operating from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily. There, all visitors will be required to wear masks and are subject to temperature checks, the company said. The Universal Studios park and Islands of Adventure will remain closed at least through May 31. Universal Studios Hollywood is also closed through that time.
May 14, 6:30 a.m.: Updated with more information about protocols for employee health.