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43,000 unionized Disney World workers will be furloughed starting Sunday

Temperature checks at the gate could be in store when the world’s largest tourist attraction reopens.
Walt Disney World lit up its emblematic Cinderella Castle in bright blue "in an effort to convey a sense of hope and gratitude" thank health care workers on World Health Day April 7. Cast members even created their own moment of thanks, holding up signs in front of the castle on Main Street U.S.A.
Walt Disney World lit up its emblematic Cinderella Castle in bright blue "in an effort to convey a sense of hope and gratitude" thank health care workers on World Health Day April 7. Cast members even created their own moment of thanks, holding up signs in front of the castle on Main Street U.S.A. [ Courtesy of Walt Disney World ]
Published Apr. 13, 2020
Updated Apr. 13, 2020

Walt Disney World might be our bellwether of what a return to normal will look like.

First the bad news: The company plans to furlough about 43,000 union workers in Florida. And when the theme parks do open, guests might find temperature checks at the turnstiles, the company’s chairman said this week.

The Orlando resort of hotels and four theme parks is the world’s most-visited tourist attraction. Like its counterparts overseas, it closed because of coronavirus concerns, but not until March 16, well after other attractions and events were canceled because of COVID-19. Its parks in California, Paris, China and Tokyo also have closed.

Disney announced in a statement Sunday that it reached an agreement with its workers’ union at Walt Disney World in Florida. The employees won’t be paid while they’re not working starting April 19, but will continue with their health insurance plans for up to 12 months, according to the Services Trade Council Union.

About 200 “essential" union employees, primarily involved with security and animal care, will remain on the job. Disney had previously announced furloughs for non-union employees but did not provide a number of how many are affected.

Walt Disney executives said they expected the virus to affect $135 million in second-quarter operating income if its Shanghai Disneyland resort is closed for two months and around $40 million in operating income if Hong Kong Disneyland is closed for the same amount of time.

Company chairman Bob Iger gave an interview to Barron’s this week and the former CEO said that for things to return to “some semblance of normal,” people will have to feel safe.

"Some of that could come in the form ultimately of a vaccine, but in the absence of that, it could come from basically more scrutiny, more restrictions," he said. "Just as we now do bag checks for everybody that goes into our parks, it could be that at some point, we add a component of that that takes people’s temperatures, as a for-instance."

He said he and the team at Disney are “very carefully” studying China’s actions in terms of the country’s return to normalcy.

Even though Walt Disney World Resort is temporarily closed, a team of essential Disney cast members is still on site, including the Disney security team, which continues to raise and lower the American flag each day in Town Square at Magic Kingdom Park.
Even though Walt Disney World Resort is temporarily closed, a team of essential Disney cast members is still on site, including the Disney security team, which continues to raise and lower the American flag each day in Town Square at Magic Kingdom Park. [ DISNEY | Disney ]

The Florida operations, which are now raising and lowering the American flag in an empty theme park every day, have come under fire for being slow to respond to coronavirus concerns.

As the news and concern about coronavirus were rising, Disney stayed open through the weekend and closed on Monday March 16. Seeing pictures posted in social media of crowds in the parks, Abigail Disney, Walt Disney’s great-niece, tweeted “Are you f—ing kidding me??” in response.

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