This summer, unions representing Disneyland employees implored California Gov. Gavin Newsom not to allow Disneyland to reopen in mid-July, noting the rising number of cases in the state at that time as well as the need for routine testing.
The theme park did not reopen July 17 as planned and instead delayed its reopening indefinitely. Essentially, it’s been stuck in limbo for four months. Meanwhile, thousands of workers have lost their jobs, and the local economy has continued to suffer. The city of Anaheim expects a fiscal-year deficit of at least $75 million, instead of the surplus that had been expected before the pandemic struck.
Disney officials say that while the company has enacted numerous safety precautions and demonstrated it can operate its theme parks safely without spreading the coronavirus, California state officials have not been forthcoming or clear about what needs to happen in order for Disneyland and other theme parks to reopen.
On Saturday, the Coalition of Resort Labor Unions published a letter to Newsom saying that Disney had listened to its employees and held up part of the bargain. And now it’s his turn to act. Specifically, the unions want the governor and his aides to involve the workers in their decision-making process.
“Disney has taken safety measures we advocated, and engaged with their workers’ representatives,” read the letter, which was signed by the leaders of several local union chapters, including the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and Independent Employee Service Association (IESA). “The company has provided detail on serious measures to protect workers via social distancing, providing PPE, addressing ventilation, and more.”
The unions said they believe Disneyland can reopen safely once there are fewer than four new cases per 100,000 residents and the rate of positive tests falls below 5% in Orange County, California, where the park is located. That improvement would move the county into Tier 3 or “moderate” risk territory.
Currently, Orange County is in Tier 2, which poses a “substantial” risk of infection. The New York Times reported last week that California officials would prefer to wait until it moves into Tier 4, where there is “minimal risk” and only one case per 100,000 residents with a positivity rate below 2%.
In his last two news conferences on the subject, Newsom didn’t cite a specific set of numbers as the threshold for reopening; rather, he said the state would be conducting its own research.
On Oct. 7, he said science and data would determine when it’s safe to reopen amusement parks, which he likened to small cities in their complexity when it comes to safety.
“We are going to be led by a health-first framework, and we’re going to be stubborn about it, and that’s our commitment,” Newsom said.
“This is serious,” he reiterated a week later. “We’re entering not just the flu season, but we’re entering into a period of time where people are more likely to start congregating and mixing back indoors.”
Disney CEO Bob Chapek called California’s reopening criteria “arbitrary” and “more stringent than than any state across the country.”
The unions took a softer tone, urging Newsom and his task force to meet with them, writing that, “The effectiveness of public health agencies in addressing COVID- 19 would benefit from coordination with worker representatives like ours that have practical knowledge and expertise regarding the challenges of addressing exposure risks. The guidelines will be safer and more effective with our input.”
Chapek has committed to keeping Disney World attendance capped at 25% until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues new guidelines. The Florida parks – the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – have also been conducting temperature checks and requiring all guests to wear masks. The week after those four parks reopened, the company tightened its mask mandate, forbidding visitors to remove their face coverings unless they were seated in designated areas and “actively eating.”
No COVID-outbreaks have been traced to Walt Disney World since Florida allowed those four parks to reopen in mid-July, or the company’s other theme parks in China, Japan and France, Chapek told CNBC last week. Disney’s Chief Medical Officer Pamela Hymel echoed that sentiment, telling The New York Times, “We didn’t cause a surge.”
Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, said that his agency had “no issues or concerns with the major theme parks at this point.” However, he also attributed the lack of outbreaks – at least partially – to the smaller crowds, saying that while Disney and other theme parks had gone to great lengths to prevent transmission of the virus, having more open space had made a difference.
Contributing: Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY