Walt Disney World plans to stop paying wages to 43,000 workers in about a week while allowing them to keep their benefits for up to a year in what is the largest wave of furloughs since the theme park resort closed in mid-March because of the new coronavirus spread.
About 43,000 unionized Disney World workers will be furloughed starting April 19, the largest wave of employees in Central Florida to be sent home without pay because of the coronavirus crisis.
The Service Trades Council Union, a coalition of six locals, announced the news Saturday on Facebook Live. The coalition said Disney had agreed to provide free health care benefits for a year and will keep paying for a program called Disney Aspire that gives workers a free education. About 200 union workers deemed essential will stay on the job, the union said.
It’s the latest and most crushing blow to Central Florida’s economy in the midst of the pandemic.
Disney World is poised to furlough most of its 77,000 employees, both union and non-union. Adding that number of people to the unemployment rolls would nearly triple metro Orlando’s unemployment rate from 2.9% in February, the latest figure available, to 8.5% now, according to data from the state.
“Things are really looking bad,” said Hector Sandoval, a University of Florida economics professor, about Disney’s furloughs. “The economy is going to take time to recover.”
And as the workers are furloughed from the world’s vacation capital, it creates a ripple effect at the airport, with rental car companies and elsewhere, University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said.
“All the suppliers that will normally actively be engaged with Disney and doing business with Disney have gone idle as well,” Snaith said.
Union leaders acknowledged they did not want furloughs but that Walt Disney Co. was within its rights to impose them and had already paid workers’ wages for weeks after the parks shut down March 16.
In recent days, Disney had said non-union employees and members of several smaller unions will be furloughed without pay starting April 19 because of the pandemic.
During the virtual press conference, some workers thanked the unions for fighting for them while others voiced frustrations about continuing to pay dues without getting a different deal that spared their wages.
But Matt Hollis, the coalition’s president, called it “a great agreement for the worst of times.”
Disney issued a statement Saturday evening that said, "This agreement provides an easier return to work when our community recovers from the impact of COVID-19. We are grateful to have worked together in good faith to help our Cast Members navigate these unprecedented times.”