By R.T. Watson 

Breaking News

Disney to Lay Off About 28,000 U.S. Theme Park Employees

About Two-Thirds of Laid-Off Workers Are Part Time

Disney Blames Covid-19 Restrictions for Layoffs

Laid-Off Workers Have Been on Furlough Since April, Unpaid But Collecting Health Benefits

More to Come

Disneyland Resort will remain closed for the foreseeable future as Southern California struggles to meet state-set health metrics that measure the spread of the coronavirus.

A top state health official said Tuesday that Orange County, home to Walt Disney Co.'s flagship theme park, failed to meet guidelines that would have allowed easing restrictions on businesses. The county is currently in the second tier, which indicates the state still considers the spread of the new coronavirus "substantial." Local officials and business leaders had hoped the county, south of Los Angeles, would qualify for the third tier, a designation that the region has improved to a "moderate" spread level.

The state's color-coded system ranks contagion risk into four tiers, from the purple Tier 1, for "widespread," to Tier 4, yellow, for "minimal." Each tier spells out restrictions for about 20 industries or other public establishments, including playgrounds, family-entertainment centers, wineries and nail salons. There are no guidelines specific to theme parks, a source of frustration for the industry and some lawmakers.

Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, said in a press conference Tuesday the state is "getting very close" to unveiling theme park-specific guidelines.

"We know that a number of Californians are eager and wondering when [guidance on theme parks] is coming," Mr. Ghaly said. "We're working with those industries to put out something that's thoughtful."

A move to the third tier would have allowed more indoor public spaces to reopen in Orange County, and some that are already open could have increased their maximum occupancy.

Disneyland closed its gates in March, along with most other such establishments around the world. But it remains the only one of the company's theme parks yet to reopen at least at reduced capacity -- including Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., which in July began allowing visitors to return in limited numbers. Disney has also reopened its parks in Japan, France and China -- all at limited capacity.

The Disney division that includes theme parks and consumer products generated more revenue last year than any other business unit, making reopening a priority for the company.

At the Disney parks that are open again, customers are required to submit to temperature checks when entering and wear face coverings except when eating and drinking. They are operating at 50% or less than usual capacity.

Disney said it lost $4.72 billion in the three months ended June 27, its first quarterly loss in nearly two decades. The previous year the company generated a profit of $1.43 billion during the same period.

Disney had expected Disneyland to reopen in mid-July, but had to reverse plans in June as California struggled to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The company says nearly 80,000 local jobs are dependent on the theme park.

On Monday, a group of nearly 20 California legislators sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, urging him to consider allowing theme parks to reopen, noting that some indoor public spaces have already been cleared to reopen.

"In the city of Anaheim, there has been an increase of about 12% for the unemployment rate and the city could be facing a $100 million budget shortfall in large part because of lost tourism dollars that is created through Disneyland," said Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva in an email to The Wall Street Journal. Ms. Quirk-Silva, who signed the letter to Gov. Newsom, represents a district that is part of Orange County.

Last week Disney sent reporters a video in which it pleaded for California to allow theme parks to reopen.

At one point in the 25-minute video, Patrick Finnegan, a vice president at Disneyland resorts, politely lamented the lack of state guidance on theme parks while asserting the company's readiness to resume operations.

"We are ready to open and we are hoping we will have guidance from the state soon," he said.

Anaheim's mayor and other elected officials have joined Orange County business leaders in lobbying for the state to provide clarity on when theme parks can reopen.

Disney recently resumed partial operations at Downtown Disney, an outdoor shopping area with dining, as some indoor public spaces in Orange County, like restaurants, retailers and movie theaters, have been allowed to reopen at limited capacity,

Among the other Southern California parks that remain shut are Comcast Corp.'s Universal Studios Hollywood theme park, Knott's Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Write to R.T. Watson at rt.watson@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 29, 2020 17:25 ET (21:25 GMT)

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