Walt Disney World will furlough 43,000 employees beginning on April 19, a union council representing employees announced on Saturday. The Service Trade Council Union broke the news in a Facebook Live session, confirming that the furloughs are related to the coronavirus pandemic. The unions involved are not pleased with the treatment their employees are getting.
"This is a decision that the union doesn't like. However, it's within the company's right to lay off and furlough employees in this situation," said president of United Here! Local 362, Eric Clinton. United Here represents full-time cast members working on all levels at Disney World, from attractions to custodial to vacation planning. The Service Trade Council Union, meanwhile, is a larger organization putting all of the relevant unions together. Even their combined bargaining power could not hold off furloughs in this situation.
"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," a representative for Walt Disney World told The Wrap in a statement. "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."
The Walt Disney Company first announced that furloughs and layoffs were on the way back on April 2, though it gave no specific number on how many employees would be impacted. It did not elaborate on what constitutes "non-essential" work for the company either.
Disney World itself has been shuttered since March 16, as the outbreak was beginning to really spread in the U.S. However, the company came under fire for hosting a "farewell party" on its last night open, drawing huge crowds into the park for one last hurrah. Many critics argued that this defeated the purpose of closing altogether.
The furloughs have been controversial as well, as they were for other companies and industries in the last few weeks. Furloughed employees are not paid, but retain benefits such as health insurance coverage, which can be a huge help during a pandemic. However, because they are technically employed, they are often not eligible to apply for unemployment, meaning that they have no income for food or housing in many cases. The exact arrangement for furloughed Disney employees is not clear, and it can vary depending on the company and the union.
For the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the CDC's website.