For years the magic kingdoms of Walt Disney theme parks have promised an idealized and very American vision of a perfect world – as well as employing many thousands of workers and giving them a chance of stable work.
But in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic those opportunities are collapsing amid mass layoffs and benefit cuts, even as some top executives hike their pay back to pre-coronavirus levels.
Walt Disney recently announced an additional layoff of 4,000 employees by the end of March 2021, in addition to the 28,000 employees who began receiving separation notices in October 2020.
The majority of the layoffs will take effect at the end of 2020, as the firm cites limited attendance and continued closure of Disneyland in California per state coronavirus restrictions.
Thousand of workers who received separation notices are grappling with what to do next, trying to survive on unemployment benefits after expanded federal unemployment benefits expired in July and holding out hope they will be able to return to work at Disney sometime in the future.
Laura Cave Braunston worked as a server at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for more than 12 years before she received her separation notice which takes effect at the end of this year.
Around 18,000 of Disney’s laid off employees will come from its Florida properties and Disney is ending its free college education program offered to affected employees.
“It’s been absolutely hard to pay bills and put food on the table. We’ve had to go to food drives, and those started out with a few hundred people, now the lines are over a thousand,” said Braunston.
Her union, Unite Here Local 737, fought for her and coworkers to receive recall rights until the end of 2022, but in the meantime Braunston has struggled to find another job and recently started an Etsy shop to try to provide her family with some income.
Her husband’s hours were recently reduced, and after they both tested positive for coronavirus in June 2020, which hospitalized her husband, he is suffering from chronic fatigue issues.
Meanwhile, Disney reinstated executive pay and salaries in August 2020 after enacting temporary pay cuts for executive employees on April 6 due to the coronavirus pandemic, ranging from 20% for all vice presidents to Disney CEO Bob Chapek taking a 50% salary cut and Chairman Bob Iger forgoing his salary.
That angers Braunston.
“Now we’re just in pain. An awful lot of pain,” she added. “Disney executives have returned to full pay and we’re struggling to get by on what we make.”
In the three months ending on June 27, Disney’s quarterly report showed a loss of $4.72bn, its first quarterly loss in two decades.
Madison, a server at Disney World who requested to just use their first name because they hope to return to work for Disney in the future, explained when the resort first shut down nobody assumed it would last so long.
“When I found out I was laid off, I just completely broke down. I was hysterically crying in my car in the parking lot of an Ikea while my boyfriend tried to calm me down,” she said.
It took almost two months from when she was furloughed to start receiving unemployment benefits, and Madison and her boyfriend wound up having to use the savings they had accrued for a place of their own on living expenses .
Another server at Disney World who was laid off explained they spent all their savings while trying to make ends meet on unemployment and are now unable to pay upcoming bills.
Her husband is disabled, she’s currently pregnant experiencing issues with unemployment benefits, which ran out as she’s waiting for pandemic unemployment assistance to start.
“My electric will be shut off. I can’t pay the phone bill or car insurance either. Our savings is completely gone,” they said. “If the government cannot get themselves together and figure out a stimulus agreement to help people, I’ll drown.”
For many Disney workers who survived the mass layoffs, some still remain on furlough and are uncertain when they will be able to return to work – or are afraid of the ongoing risk of catching the virus.
Tawana Evans has worked as a server at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, for over seven years.
When she was first furloughed in March 2020, she thought the closure would only last a few weeks, but over seven months later she remains out of work and is struggling to find another job while she waits to be recalled.
“We would love the parks to reopen. We need our income but a lot of us also live in situations where going back to work would put a lot of our family members at greater risk,” she said.
“It’s a bloodbath.”
That’s how two longtime Disney staffers have described the wave of executive level layoffs happening at the company today.
The staff reductions are taking place in Disney’s General Entertainment Content unit, overseen by Peter Rice, and Dana Walden’s Walt Disney Television division, including ABC and studio 20th Television.
Sources say more than 100 staffers have been impacted by today’s layoffs.
Longtime ABC exec Vicki Dummer, who has spent nearly a quarter-century at Disney and most recently served as head of current for the broadcast network, is among the senior executives who have been impacted by the layoffs.
ABC’s exec vp scheduling Andy Kubitz, an eight-year network veteran, is also among those who lost their jobs today.
Kubitz most recently patched together ABC’s schedule after the scores of holes were created when the pandemic forced production to shut down.
On the studio side, Dan Kupetz — who joined 20th TV in January to fill the void created by longtime studio co-chief Howard Kurtzman’s retirement — was also let go.