Walt Disney World will furlough its largest amount of workers yet without pay due to the coronavirus pandemic April 19, sending about 43,000 union workers home, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
The coalition of locals that represents the workers in question, the Service Trades Council Union, made the announcement Saturday, saying Disney will provide free health care benefits for the furloughed workers for a year as well as continue paying for their education benefits, adding that about 200 union workers deemed essential will remain on the job.
Most of the theme park’s 77,000 employees are set to be furloughed due to the pandemic, which would by itself bring the metro Orlando area’s unemployment rate from February’s 2.9 percent to about 8.5 percent, according to the newspaper, citing state data.
University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith told the Sentinel that the furloughs create a ripple effect that also trickles down to workers such as airport and rental car company staff.
“All the suppliers that will normally actively be engaged with Disney and doing business with Disney have gone idle as well,” he said.
Disney shut down its parks March 16.
“This agreement provides an easier return to work when our community recovers from the impact of COVID-19,” Disney said in a statement on the furloughs Saturday evening. “We are grateful to have worked together in good faith to help our Cast Members navigate these unprecedented times.”
While much of the rank and file expressed frustration about the furloughs in a Facebook live chat announcing them Saturday, coalition president Matt Hollis called the arrangement “a great agreement for the worst of times,” according to the Sentinel.
Florida’s unemployment system has been under particular strain due to coronavirus-related layoffs in April, with hundreds forced to physically appear to apply for benefits despite social distancing recommendations after a surge of applicants crashed the state’s online database in south Florida.