ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — More than 700 performers lost their jobs at Walt Disney World in the park’s latest round of layoffs following impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the labor union that represents them.
The Actors' Equity Association, the national labor union representing professional actors and stage managers in live theatre, released a statement discussing the news that 720 out of its 780 members at Walt Disney World lost their jobs this week.
“Our hearts go out to all the cast members at Walt Disney World,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors' Equity Association. “Disney has made it clear that our members would face work reductions since they announced layoffs of nearly 28,000 employees. That does not make this news any less painful.”
The union said before the pandemic about 780 of its members were either full time, part time or seasonal at the parks. They said about 60 are currently working or about to return to work in the park.
“These reductions are another tragic reminder that until the virus is brought under control with a national strategy for masks, testing and contact tracing, everyone who works in the arts needs help like extended pandemic unemployment insurance and federal COBRA health insurance subsidies,” Shindle said.
According to an agreement with Disney, the union said their laid-off members can maintain recall rights until the end of 2021.
These layoffs are the latest part of Disney’s plan to layoff 28,000 theme park workers across the country.
Performers have taken to social media, saying six shows were impacted including Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor at Magic Kingdom and the popular Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom.
Disney released a statement on the layoffs on Friday, saying in part:
"Recently, we’ve had to make some difficult decisions to reduce our workforce as the business impacts from the Covid-19 pandemic have become more long-lasting than anyone could have predicted. As a result, we’ve had to pause many live shows and entertainment experiences at our resort for longer than originally anticipated.:
Sean Bliznik, an assistant professor of tourism, events and attractions at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, said more shows could be cut.
He used to work for Disney and knows some of the people who have been laid off.
“I did for many years as a stage manager, event manager, I worked for many years at Disney Cruise line as well,” he said. “And I have been shattered as many others have been after seeing the news over the last 24 hours.”
Bliznik said from what he’s seen on social media, “most live entertainment offerings across the four parks have been affected, some entire casts.”
He said coming back from this won’t be easy.
“It would be quite, quite a sizeable effort to get that machine up and running,” Bliznik said. “Of course it will at some point, but it won’t be easy.”
Marla Miller’s daughter Paige also learned she’d stop getting hours on Nov. 1, and stop getting paid on Dec. 31.
“Working for Disney has been a dream of mine and hers,” Miller said. "She just adores Disney (and) not being there, she’s sad. It’s something that was part of her.
For Miller, it’s not just a job, but a place her daughter, who is on the autism spectrum, thrived.
“She’s on the autism spectrum and Disney is the only place I’ve ever been able to take here where it seems like she is completely comfortable,” Miller said.