Disney furloughs 100,000 theme park and hotel workers amid coronavirus shutdown

About 70,000 laid-off Walt Disney World Resort workers have to rely now on Florida unemployment, which pays just $275 a week for 12 weeks.

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By Corky Siemaszko

Mickey, Goofy and Minnie were out of jobs Monday as Disney furloughed 100,000 theme park and hotel workers, including cast members who play the beloved Walt Disney characters in Florida and elsewhere, because of the coronavirus crisis.

Hardest hit was Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, where 70,000 workers will now have to rely on the state's much-criticized Unemployment Assistance program, which pays just $275 a week for 12 weeks, among the lowest rates in the U.S., UNITE HERE labor union officials said.

Disney characters Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse appear on the red carpet for the 2008 Disney Channel Games at Epcot Center at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, on May 2, 2008.Jeff Daly / Getty Images file

About 26,000 of those workers are members of UNITE HERE, and thanks to an agreement worked out with Disney before the layoffs, they will automatically be enrolled in the unemployment program, the union said in a statement.

"Disney's announcement that they have reached an Agreement with the state of Florida for Cast members to be auto-enrolled into the Unemployment Assistance program is terrific news!" the UNITE HERE statement said.

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Unlike thousands of other Floridians, they won't be forced to navigate a system that has shut down several times because of the sheer volume of unemployment applications being filed. It was not working at all over the weekend, sources said.

"The Governor should do the same for any employer that wants to participate," the UNITE HERE statement said. "Just like eliminating the requirement to look for work to receive benefits, or reaffirm the need for benefits every two weeks, these are small fixes to a massive problem."

Disney World employs 75,000 people, making it the biggest single-site employer in the country. Both it and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, shut down five weeks ago.

A total of 100,000 workers — roughly half the Disney theme park and resort workforce — have now been furloughed in a move that could save Disney about $500 million a month in salaries as it tries to ride out the coronavirus crisis, The Financial Times reported.

A Disney spokesperson declined to confirm how many people were being furloughed.

The FT also reported that Disney Chairman Bob Iger has given up the rest of his $3 million salary for the rest of the year and that Chief Executive Bob Chapek "will forgo half" of his $2.5 million base salary.

"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," the company said in a statement.

"Over the last few weeks, mandatory decrees from government officials have shut down a majority of our businesses."

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Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Lois Frankel, both D-Fla., called on Gov. Ron DeSantis this month "to utilize federal funding recently provided by Congress to make swift improvements to the state's unemployment insurance system."

Murphy has also called for a federal investigation into "years of misuse by the State of Florida of federal funds that were meant to sustain and strengthen the system."

"As the COVID-19 pandemic has painfully revealed, Florida's UC program is deficient in comparison to the UC programs in other states," Murphy said, referring to unemployment compensation. "This is the result of years of deliberate policy choices by Florida's elected leaders designed to make it difficult for residents to access earned benefits, combined with indifference to the human consequences of those choices."