At noon today, Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, circulated a video among employees informing 95 percent of them that they are now unemployed, according to multiple newly laid-off employees who say they received an email containing a link to the video.
According to a newly laid-off employee who did not wish to be named, staffers got an email Wednesday night advising them to expect an “important announcement” at noon today. Despite having being told last week they would be retained in order to get shows up and running as quickly as possible when coronavirus restrictions are lifted, Lamarre laid off 95 percent of the company’s workers, including administrative staff and artistic directors in a bizarre two-minute video. “I wish I had a chance to speak to you in person,” Lamarre says in the video. “Unfortunately, given the current pandemic, a video was the best option for me to speak to all of you at the same time, and most importantly, protect your health.”
“The tone was just weird,” the source says, “especially [from] a man I’ve met like once wearing Bono sunglasses.”
In the past week, Cirque du Soleil, which also owns Blue Man Group and V-Star Entertainment, has shuttered its shows in Las Vegas and around the world due to coronavirus. Following the show closures, part-time and contract employees, which include everyone from ushers to aerialists, according to the source, were told they would be notified when their jobs were once again available. However, remaining staff expected to be informed of further layoffs by supervisors. Instead, supervisors found out at the same time their teams did, leaving 4,679 people unemployed in a video just one minute longer than a television commercial.
Fifteen minutes after receiving the video, a select group of employees were given access to a conference call, where the now-former staffers thought they might receive more information. Instead, a former employee says, employees listened for a further eight minutes during which a person, identified by a representative for Cirque du Soleil as a department head, came on the line and “nervously yelled at us” before telling listeners that WWII was the only economic crisis he could think to compare the current predicament to and hanging up the phone as questions poured in. (Jezebel reached out to Cirque du Soleil for comment and will update when they respond.)
And though employees on the call learned that health insurance will be covered for up to six months for full-time employees, according to the former staffer, it would be impossible to for them to cash-in on any accrued paid time off or unused sick days, since doing so would indicate that the employee had quit, leaving them ineligible for unemployment—the only financial recourse for most of those laid off today.
Lamerra disconnected the line following his monologue, leaving employees, many of whom had been working with the company for over a decade, stunned. “Everyone is confused, shocked, and scrambling,” the source said.
And while coronavirus layoffs have impacted many, leaving workers scrambling without a source of income beyond unemployment, an impersonal video emailed to employees around the globe and conference call link for a select few seems like a particularly heartless way to break the news to the thousands of people Lamarre refers to as “family.”
“In these difficult times,” Lamarre told the viewers just learning they will be without employment for the foreseeable future, “the most important thing will be to stay connected with each other” before encouraging those with login credentials to visit an employee website for updates.
Correction: A previous version of this post states that Daniel Lamarre led a phone call with employees following the video. According to a representative from the company, calls were led by heads of each department.
Update (March 20, 2020, 10:40 a.m.): In an email to Jezebel, Mélanie Fontaine, public relations manager for Cirque du Soleil, wrote: “Yes the video was hard to watch. You have to understand that Daniel has been leading the company for years. He knows almost everyone by name at our Montreal headquarters. He truly cares about the people who work alongside him. This week has been hard on everyone, Daniel included, which may explain.”