DISNEY cast members are “frightened” and “feel like hostages” as Disneyland theme parks prepare to reopen amid coronavirus fears, reports say.
Their concerns emerged after the company decided to postpone the July 17 reopening of their California theme parks as the deadly virus continued to pummel the United States.
Disney previously said this proposed reopening was “pending government approvals” and that California “will not issue theme park reopening guidelines until sometime after July 4.”
The theme parks closed back in March but Disney workers are reportedly concerned by the prospect of getting back to work during a pandemic.
“We are frightened,” one cast member called Jason told Gizmodo. “We don’t know how bad the risk to ourselves is going to be, but we know that there will be a risk. And it is a risk that none of us signed up for.”
The publication spoke to five non-union members who were furloughed, living on $600 unemployment checks (which expire in July), and waiting to see if they would be rehired.
While some union members are excited to get back to work, others fear becoming “frontline cast members.”
“We have lives too. We have families and friends that we live with too,” another employee called Nestor said.
“While you are there to enjoy your day and have fun, this is our job. I think there’s a great divide between the excitement of the park reopening between guests and cast members because guests can’t really see our point of view.”
“I can’t think of really any good reasons, aside from money, that they would want to reopen this quickly,” agreed another staffer called Paige. “It saddens me more than anything else because I just kind of feel like a hostage to the company at this point.”
In Anaheim, the Downtown Disney District is reopening on July 9 in-keeping with the other restaurants and retail outlets reopening throughout the state.
The decision to delay reopening the parks was made after Disney came under pressure from Coalition of Resort Labor Unions, which represents 17,000 service workers for the Disneyland Resort.
The union sent a joint letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom asking the state to delay Disneyland’s planned reopening because safety plans weren’t ready and staged a car caravan protest in Anaheim over the weekend.
However, Walt Disney World Resorts in Orlando have scheduled their phased reopening for July 11 as per Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s approval.
DeSantis recently told WTSP there are no plans to roll back this timeline for parks while Disney Springs shopping center is already open.
Universal Studios Orlando also reopened on June 5, albeit with limited capacity.
Guests have been inundating the Disney World booking site since June 22, when it opened for people who’d had previous Disney World reservations.
Now, the unions are trying to come to an agreement with Disney about the safety measures required to reopen.
These include: free masks for cast members; COVID-19 testing; increased security; paid leave for infected cast members; guaranteed family leave; and opting out of returning to work if they’ve been furloughed for medical or personal reasons.
Last week, a Disney spokesperson told The Sun: “We have had positive discussions and are very pleased to have signed agreements from 20 union affiliates, including the Master Services Council, which represents more than 11,000 of our cast members.”
The company indicated that these agreement plans include increased safety protocols – but Workers United Local 50 President Chris Duarte told Gizmodo said they’re pushing back on some of these, including on-demand testing.
However, employees are also concerned about the public’s compliance when it comes to mask, which have become highly politicized over the course of the pandemic.
Workers pointed out that it would be easy for guests to wear a mask at the entrance before whipping it off once they’re inside.
The Sun reached out to Disney for comment on Tuesday.
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Last week, representative confirmed they had “no choice but to delay the reopening of our theme parks and resort hotels until we receive approval from government officials.”
“Once we have a clearer understanding of when guidelines will be released, we expect to be able to communicate a reopening date,” the spokesperson said.
A reopening date for its California parks has yet to be confirmed as of June 30.