More COVID-19 economic wreckage was visited on Southern California today as Disney announced it is beginning the process of laying off approximately 28,000 cast members more than 6-months after closing the Disneyland Resort in response to Governor Newsom’s lock-down edicts at the dawn of the pandemic.

The move was precipitated by Governor Gavin Newsom’s unwillingness or inability to issue re-opening guidelines or theme parks, as he was for virtually every other sector of the state economy.  Disney has been ready mid-July to re-open the Resort under stringent health and safety protocols, but have been unable to do so due to the Governor’s failure to issue guidelines.

Disney’s Florida theme parks have been operating safely since re-opening in July.

Earlier today, Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, issued a statement announcing the decision:

In light of the prolonged impact of COVID-19 on our business, including limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements and the continued uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic – exacerbated in California by the State’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen – we have made the very difficult decision to begin the process of reducing our workforce at our Parks, Experiences and Products segment at all levels, having kept non-working Cast Members on furlough since April, while paying healthcare benefits. Approximately 28,000 domestic employees will be affected, of which about 67% are part-time. We are talking with impacted employees as well as to the unions on next steps for union-represented Cast Members.

Over the past several months, we’ve been forced to make a number of necessary adjustments to our business, and as difficult as this decision is today, we believe that the steps we are taking will enable us to emerge a more effective and efficient operation when we return to normal. Our Cast Members have always been key to our success, playing a valued and important role in delivering a world-class experience, and we look forward to providing opportunities where we can for them to return.

Citing the increasingly cataclysmic impacts of prolonged closure, Disney and a growing coalition of other theme park operators, and elected officials, labor leaders and businesses from tourism-dependent regions have been calling upon Governor Newsom to issue theme park re-opening guidelines.

Thus far, the Governor has failed to do so and responded with vague assurances that guidelines are coming “very soon.”

Reaction from business leaders and cast members has been swift and damning.

“The mass layoff announcement from Disney is tragic – and entirely forseeable to all of us who have been calling on Governor Newsom to do what he has inexplicably failed to do – issue theme park re-opening guidelines,” said Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament.

“The Disneyland Resort has been closed for more than 6 months. For the first six weeks of the closure, they paid their cast members – and continue to pay their health care benefits once forced to furlough them, continued Ament, noting that Disney’s Florida theme parks have been operating safely since mid-July with no COVID issues.

“Responsibility for Disney’s reluctant decision to lay-off more than 28,000 cast members lands squarely on the shoulders of Governor Newsom and those interests who have put their short-term agendas ahead of allowing cast members to return to work,” said Ament.

Disney cast member Jose Martinez, who started a petition calling for re-opening the Resort, expressed sadness at the news and assigned blame squarely on Newsom:

Due to the failure of Governor Newsom to issue theme park guidelines, Disney has been forced to let go of 28,000 Cast Members. Subsequently, our petition to ensure Cast Members remained employed and to prevent small local businesses from being forced to shut down has failed.

I tremendously appreciate all of your support for signing the petition and wish you all the best as we move through this difficult time together.