Disney World workers start petition urging theme park to delay reopening

Tribune Content Agency

ORLANDO, Fla. — Some Disney World workers are pleading with theme park executives to reconsider plans to reopen in July, following days of record-number cases of COVID-19 infections that have pushed the statewide total past 100,000.

Reopening would mean bringing back tens of thousands of workers who were furloughed April 19 and since then have struggled to navigate Florida’s broken unemployment system. Still, workers who signed the petition said it’s too soon to welcome back guests.

“This virus is not gone, unfortunately, it’s only become worse in this state,” reads the petition, which was approaching 4,000 signatures Monday, a small showing of the resort’s 78,000 staffers. “While theme parks are a great way to relax and enjoy free time, it is a non-essential business; it is not fair to the people who work there to risk their lives, especially if they are at risk or have family members who are at risk. People are more important than making a profit. Mayors, theme park executives, government officials — please hear what we are saying.”

But with Disney set to start its phased-in reopening in just a few weeks, nearly four months after it voluntarily shut down on March 16, it’s unclear if executives will be swayed by the plea.

Disney also is facing pushback from Disneyland workers who over the past two weeks have collected nearly 45,000 signatures calling to delay the Anaheim, California, park’s reopening amid rising ICU hospitalizations.

Disney would not comment on whether there had been any discussions over postponing the Orlando return, but the parks have previously laid out the safety precautions, as well as the decision to give paid sick leave to workers who develop symptoms and need to quarantine.

Disney will require employees and guests to wear masks and have their temperatures checked before entering, and there will hand-washing stations placed around the properties. The parks will operate at limited capacity and have suspended FastPasses, park-hopping and character meet-and-greets.

In the online petition posted on the progressive website moveon.org, several Disney World employees said the reopening should be delayed until infections start to decline. Families and friends of employees and former cast members also signed the petition, worried that park employees will be at higher risk for contracting the coronavirus that has already accounted for more than 3,000 deaths in Florida.

Workers who organized the petition did not respond to requests for comment. Some people who signed wrote that they feared for their safety if they are forced to return to work.

One person wrote, “Hospitality workers do not deserve to be sacrificed on the altar of the almighty dollar. Tourism can wait, but this virus will not. Many cast members are the very demographics most vulnerable to COVID-19 and should not be forced to risk their lives just to relieve the broken unemployment system.”

Another said, “Because as much as I like my job, the case numbers are going up and I don’t want to get sick. Theme park workers aren’t essential workers. Your vacation is not worth my health.”

Eric Clinton, president of the Unite Here Local 362 union that represents Disney workers, said he was not aware of the effort. He said that most of the workers he has talked with are “pretty excited” about returning to work.

“Disney Springs has been open for over a month, and I haven’t heard of one news report or one cast member or one guest saying, ‘I got COVID 19,’” he said.

Disney’s reopening plan — approved by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Gov. Ron Desantis in late-May — outlined reopening the parks in phases. First, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, followed by Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15. Disney Springs, an outdoor complex of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, has been open since May 20.

Meanwhile, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando have already reopened, in June about a month ahead of Disney.

Dr. Raul Pino, the Florida Department of Health’s officer in Orange, during a briefing Monday said while he’s heard anecdotally of some people getting sick at the parks, he so far hasn’t been able to link any cases in the county’s database specifically to Universal or SeaWorld and there has been “no evidence of any cluster at an of the parks that are opened.”

But Demings said, realistically, “if you have any work location of any significant size, you’re going to have positive cases.”

However, the petition points out that DeSantis’ multi-phase reopening plan indicated that the second phase, in which theme parks, bars and nightclubs could open back up, would begin once there was a downward trajectory of virus cases.

Over the past few weeks, Orange County and Florida have seen single-day records for the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus, prompting Demings to issue an executive order requiring all Orange County residents to wear masks. On Saturday, the state reported 4,049 new cases — the most Florida had seen in one day since the pandemic began.

DeSantis said the spike in cases is due to wider-spread testing and the “vast majority” of new cases are younger, asymptomatic patients not as likely to be killed by the disease. He has said he will not order businesses to shut down again or mandate that residents wear masks.

Demings has previously said that the situation is not worrisome enough to issue another stay-at-home order but he has not ruled it out. When asked about the petition, Demings through a spokeswoman said the decision over when to reopen is up to Disney and he has not discussed a postponement with park leaders.

“Disney has been a good community partner and has made their decisions based upon the best scenario for its employees and guests,” the statement said.

A DeSantis spokeswoman said the governor had not seen the petition, which went up Sunday, but said “every measure is being taken to ensure the safety and well-being of Florida residents and visitors as the state continues to reopen.”


©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.