The announcement that Florida had moved into phase three of reopening on Sep. 25 was intended to jumpstart an economy and job market badly battered by the coronavirus pandemic. Just days later though, Disney, the state’s largest employer, announced 28,000 employees would be laid off nationwide.
Of those 28,000 layoffs, 6,700 are non-union jobs at Walt Disney World in Orlando. The Orlando Sentinel reported that an additional 8,857 part-time union workers would be laid off a week later, bringing the total number of layoffs to over 15,500 out of a workforce that had numbered 77,000 employees.
“As heartbreaking as it is to take this action,” said Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, “this is the only feasible option we have in light of the prolonged impact of COVID-19 on our business.”
The loss of more than 20% of Disney’s Florida workforce is yet another serious blow to the beleaguered tourism industry. The backbone of the state economy has been hemorrhaging jobs since the coronavirus pandemic began in the U.S. in March.
Tourism numbers plummeted more than 60% in the second quarter of 2020, and 40% of hospitality jobs have been lost, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Without assistance, those numbers could climb as high as 70% by winter.
Industry representatives are calling on Congress to provide a second round of relief, either through new legislation or more money from the Paycheck Protection Program, which employers say has run dry.
Disney isn’t the only Orlando attraction struggling. Universal extended 5,398 furloughs for at least another six months, and SeaWorld announced the layoffs of 1,896 furloughed workers. All three theme parks have been open since early summer.
As hotels and attractions that accommodate tourists struggle, so does the transportation industry that brings them to the state, especially airlines. A federal prohibition on job cuts expired Oct. 1, prompting American Airlines and United Airlines to lay off tens of thousands of employees.
South Florida was hit particularly hard by the airline cuts. American, which has a major hub in Miami, laid off 2,000 south Florida employees, and United laid off several hundred as well.
As a result of these developments, new jobless claims rose significantly in the week ending on Oct. 3, increasing to 42,306 per the U.S. Department of Labor. With 9,933 more new filings than the previous week, Florida saw the largest weekly unemployment jump out of all the states, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
The previous week’s 32,373 claims had been the lowest yet during the pandemic, and it came after several consecutive weeks of steady decline, which was a sign the state’s economy was beginning to recover.
Despite the blow, officials in Tallahassee remain confident. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis both pointed out that the situation could have been much worse for attractions had the state been harsher with coronavirus restrictions.
“I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been for Disney if Gov. DeSantis had not encouraged and supported the opening of those parks,” Patronis said.
DeSantis contrasted Florida’s economic reopening to that of California, where Disneyland is based, in a meeting with Enterprise Florida.
“They’re still not allowed to operate in California,” the governor said. “I mean, after all this time, even though as they opened in Florida, infections have gone down tremendously, they’re still not able to operate in California.”
Disney itself seems to agree with DeSantis and Patronis. D’Amaro cited California’s “unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen” as a leading reason why the company is in such a difficult circumstance, reports CNN Business.
However, Democrats in central Florida are calling on both Washington and Tallahassee to provide more financial relief as the local economy struggles.
“Communities like ours are bearing the brunt of the gridlock in Washington,” tweeted Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Winter Park. “This underscores why Congress and the White House cannot wait to reach a compromise on another relief package that will help central Florida workers, business and families.”
Her colleague, Rep. Val Demings, D-Orlando, criticized the Trump administration for halting coronavirus aid talks. She also urged DeSantis to reinstate the statewide eviction moratorium and use CARES Act funding for rent assistance.
“Our community is hurting under the ongoing pressure of the pandemic,” Demings said. “We must all dig deep and find ways to help our neighbors in this sad time.”
Featured image: Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando. Unmodified photo by Michael Gray Wantagh used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3lpf9c8)
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