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At Disney World, ‘Worst Fears’ About Virus Have Not Come True

In July, one infectious disease expert said Walt Disney World’s reopening was a “terrible idea” that was “inviting disaster.” Social media users attacked Disney as “irresponsible” and “clueless” for pressing forward, even as coronavirus cases surged in Florida. A few aghast onlookers turned Disney World marketing videos into parody trailers for horror films.

Attendance has been lower than anticipated. Travel agents say families have been postponing Christmastime plans to vacation at the Orlando-area resort, in part because of concerns about the safety of flying. In recent days, Disney World, citing continued uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic, began laying off 15,550 workers, or 20 percent of its work force.

As tumultuous as the three months since the reopening have been, however, public health officials and Disney World’s unions say there have been no coronavirus outbreaks among workers or guests. So far, Disney’s wide-ranging safety measures appear to be working. “We have no issues or concerns with the major theme parks at this point,” said Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, which includes Disney World.

Disney declined to say how many Disney World employees had tested positive for the coronavirus since the resort reopened. In phone interviews, union leaders said cases had been minimal. “We’ve had very few, and none, as far as we can tell, have been from work-related exposure,” said Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here Local 362, which represents roughly 8,000 attraction workers and custodians.

Mr. Clinton’s assessment was echoed by Unite Here Local 737, which represents hotel housekeepers and food and beverage workers; IATSE Local 631, where members include stagehands and show technicians; United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1625, which handles merchandise and banquet workers; and Teamsters Local 385, which looks after bus drivers, laundry workers and entertainers who appear in costume as Disney characters.

“So far — so far — it has been a success story,” said Julee Jerkovich, a United Food & Commercial Workers official. “As a union rep, I do not say that lightly.”

Disney’s ability to keep workers and guests safe has been at the center of an increasingly tense standoff in California that has kept the company’s West Coast resort closed since March. Gov. Gavin Newsom, citing coronavirus concerns, has refused to allow California theme parks to reopen; Disney, citing the efficacy of its safety procedures in Florida, has pressured him to reconsider. So have elected officials in Southern California, where the two-park Disneyland Resort supports 78,000 jobs, according to economists at California State University, Fullerton.

Getting the Anaheim, Calif., complex running again is important for Disney because other areas of the company — theatrical films, cruise vacations — have also been severely disrupted by the pandemic and face a more strenuous recovery. Disneyland generated an estimated $3.8 billion in revenue last year, according to Michael Nathanson, a media analyst.

Last week, a frustrated Robert A. Iger, Disney’s executive chairman, resigned from an economic task force set up by Mr. Newsom at the

Disney Locks Horns With California Over Theme Park Reopenings

Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) clashed today with California’s governor Gavin Newsom about the reopening schedule of the state’s theme parks and similar attractions.

Newsom stated that the California legislature feels “there’s no hurry to put out guidelines” for park reopenings

She went on to say Disney’s COVID-19 safety measures for its parks were worked out with epidemiologists and used guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources. Dr. Hymel added that Disney’s other theme parks “have been allowed to open on the strength of our proven ability to operate with responsible health and safety protocols” both domestically and abroad.

California Attractions and Parks Association Executive Director Erin Guerrero also issued a statement: “California’s amusement parks are ready to responsibly reopen.” Guerrero called Gavin’s statement “unreasonable,” and said that his “‘no big rush’ approach is ruining businesses and livelihoods for thousands who could responsibly be back at work.”

and that he doesn’t “anticipate in the immediate term any of these larger parks opening until we see more stability in terms of the data,” as reported by Hollywood news source Deadline.

Disney reacted strongly to the governor’s commentary. Disney Parks Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel tweeted, “We absolutely reject the suggestion that reopening the Disneyland Resort is incompatible with a ‘health-first’ approach.”

The backlash over Newsom’s statements comes the same day Disney said it will lay off 8,800 part-time theme park workers. Last Wednesday, Disney said it would lay off 28,000 workers, but union negotiations have since limited the pink slips to part-time workers only and made even those layoffs potentially nonpermanent.

Disneyland Park is the world's second-most visited theme park, normally drawing tens of thousands of visitors each day Disneyland Park is the world’s second-most visited theme park, normally drawing tens of thousands of visitors each day Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / DAVID MCNEW

This article originally appeared in the Motley Fool.

Rhian Hunt has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short October 2020 $125 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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