Disney, union talks continue over announcement of furloughs

Leaders with one of the largest unions representing employees at Walt Disney World Resort are in negotations with the company after it announced furloughs.

Representatives for Unite Here! said they met throughout the day on Friday with representatives of Disney adding, "We had productive discussions, but a number of issues remain unresolved."

Disney announced Thursday that the furloughs would start mid-April at both their Florida and California parks.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on our world with untold suffering and loss, and has required all of us to make sacrifices. Over the last few weeks, mandatory decrees from government officials have shut down a majority of our businesses," the company said in a statement.

Disney employees have received full pay and benefits during the closure time, "and we’ve committed to paying them through April 18, for a total of five additional weeks of compensation," the company added.

"However, with no clear indication of when we can restart our businesses, we’re forced to make the difficult decision to take the next step and furlough employees whose jobs aren’t necessary at this time."

The furlough process will begin on April 19, and all impacted workers will remain Disney employees through the duration of the furlough period, the company said. They will receive full healthcare benefits, plus the cost of employee and company premiums will be paid by Disney, and those enrolled in Disney Aspire will have continued access to the education program.

"Additionally, employees with available paid time off can elect to use some or all of it at the start of the furlough period and, once furloughed, they are eligible to receive an extra $600 per week in federal compensation through the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill, as well as state unemployment insurance," the company said.

Early indicators are that furloughs will include executives, managers, and non-union workers at the park, though no exact numbers have been released. Unite Here! has not indicated how or if the furloughs will affect the employees they represent.

"The coronavirus crisis presents workers with a complicated set of challenges, risks and dangers," read a statement from Unite Here! "We need to consider all of the circumstances that Union members face before we reach any agreement with Disney. With so much at stake, we cannot rush into a quick settlement. We will push for the absolute best result for Union members and their families."

With thousands of employees at Disney in Central Florida though, many in the tourist industry expect a lot of people will be affected locally.

Michael Beacham who runs the I-Drive Workers Relief and Support Center, a food shelf and center setup to help hospitality workers affected by the COVID-19 crisis, said he’s been surprised by the amount of theme park workers in need already, and expects the number will only rise now.

"We've had some Disney workers come through here and I think a lot of them were surprised that the decision was made to furlough,” said Beacham. "The stories that we hear right now are heart wrenching. People who have children, they live paycheck to paycheck, they're scared."

Beacham said the center has already fed about 200 families during the crisis, and while they continue to receive large donations from local individuals and businesses, he said the addition of the furloughed employees means they will need a lot more help. They ask anyone who can donate to do so.

Unite Here! said negotiations are expected to continue over the weekend.