Hundreds lose jobs as Disney World layoffs accelerate

Walt Disney World has stepped up layoffs this week, as the company moves ahead with a broad, recession-forced restructuring of its management ranks.

Disney, which is Central Florida’s largest employer, with about 62,000 “cast members,” refused to say Thursday how many jobs it has eliminated. But one person familiar with some details of the cuts said he was given an estimate of 450.

The cuts have predominantly targeted salaried workers, rather than the hourly employees who make up the vast majority of the resort’s work force. Employees say layoffs have occurred across Disney World’s back-office functions, including entertainment, merchandise, finance, transportation, training, emergency management and theme-park operations.

Some workers who deal directly with guests have also been let go, including guest-service managers and managers in Disney Vacation Club’s sales-preview center.

“It’s property-wide,” said Donna-Lynne Dalton, business agent for the Teamsters Local 385 union, which represents characters, laundry workers, parking attendants and ranch hands. She noted, however, that the job cuts have not affected unionized employees.

“I was told that they are going to be walking people out through Friday,” she said. The Walt Disney Co.’s fiscal second quarter ends this week.

One former employee, who said he was laid off Wednesday after more than 10 years at Disney World, said he was personally familiar with about two dozen others who lost their jobs. Two others laid off this week said they personally knew about 20 others whose jobs were eliminated.

“We’re not talking about one or two people. We’re talking about 30 or 40 people in some areas,” one of the laid-off employees said. All spoke on the condition they not be identified, for fear of losing their severance pay.

Some severance packages include one week’s pay for every year with the company, which includes up to 60 days on paid administrative leave, during which the former employees can continue to receive benefits. An ex-employee said laid-off workers are also permitted to at least temporarily continue to purchase health insurance at company rates.

Disney announced last month that it would slash jobs across as its domestic resorts, as part of a sweeping reorganization aimed at combining functions between Disney World and Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.

The layoffs follow voluntary buyouts that were offered to more than 600 park executives, including 313 in Orlando. Disney said recently that approximately 50 executives accepted the buyouts.

“We think these changes are essential to maintaining our leadership position in family tourism, and they reflect today’s economic realities,” Disney spokesman Mike Griffin said Thursday.

The layoffs and buyouts are part of deep cost cuts imposed across the Disney Co. in recent months, as the Burbank, Calif., media-and-entertainment giant suffers through the worst recession in decades. Company profit fell 32 percent during the first quarter, which ended Dec. 27.

Disney’s theme parks are particularly vulnerable to downturns in consumer spending. The company has attempted to keep attendance afloat with deep discounts that are eroding profit margins.

Among those who have already departed or are scheduled to leave by the end of the month: Disney Cruise Line President Tom McAlpin, top chef and restaurant planner Dieter Hannig, and veteran spokesman Bill Warren.

The company has said it is trying to target cost cuts at its theme parks so that they do not hurt guests’ experience. But one laid-off employee said the back-office cuts will inevitably affect front-line employees who deal directly with customers.

“The support from backstage to cast members affects that guest experience,” he said. “They affect the cast member, the cast member’s attitude, the cast member’s ability to do their job.”

Disney World has been laying off workers since last month. But former employees say the cuts accelerated this week and have been so widespread that one former worker described it as “a massacre.”

The cuts could be timed to coincide with the end of the Disney Co.’s fiscal second quarter, which concludes Saturday. Disney will report its second-quarter earnings May 5.


Leave a Reply