This Is No Longer the Happiest Place on Earth

Walt Disney World in less socially-distant times.
Walt Disney World in less socially-distant times.
Image: via Getty

This is a real bummer: Walt Disney World, the largest single-site employer in the United States, will furlough 43,000 union employees, all thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

The New York Times reports that the furloughs will begin on April 19, and like the pandemic, have no end date, though Walt Disney World says they expect everyone will be able to come back when the theme park reopens. Union-represented employees will still get full and free health benefits for up to a year, and any employees who return after the furlough will retain their job titles and full wages. In the meantime, it looks like everyone will have to file for state unemployment.

This isn’t unexpected news, considering Walt Disney World has been shuttered for weeks now, but it is still unwelcome. The country is experiencing a rate of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. Last week, the New York Times reported that more than 16 million people lost their jobs in March, and the longer the pandemic stretches on—and it’s expected to stretch on for some time—the more that number will go up. It’s also noteworthy that that number doesn’t account for people whose job losses are harder to count, like undocumented workers, contractors, and freelancers (hi!) who are losing gigs thanks to the trickle-down.


Disney is the largest employer in the state of Florida, with the resort itself employing (or, at least, previously employing) nearly 75,000 people. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Disney’s ready to furlough all those employees, union or non-union, save for about 200 deemed “essential workers.” As a result, Orlando’s unemployment rate will triple. In California, Deadline reports, Disneyland reached a similar agreement with the 10 unions representing its workers; it will furlough thousands of employees, but continue to pay for their health benefits.

And if you are wondering what is the happiest place on Earth, now that Walt Disney World and Disneyland have both fallen, it appears to be the tree directly outside my kitchen window, which is now in full bloom and newly home to several million thrilled and vocal birds, who are apparently unaware of the mass illness and joblessness afflicting the humans around them. Honestly, I’m happy for them.


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This really sucks but one must remember Disney’s two main revenue sources, theme parks and motion pictures, are completely gone. ESPN, once the crown jewel of their TV portfolio, is relegated to sports repeats and celebrities playing video games at home.

The only way the company can really continue to ensure that people’s jobs are safe at the conclusion of this, especially not knowing if movie theaters will ever recover, is to be as financially conscious as they can be right now, until the world gets back to normal to some extent.

Also, from talking to friends there, this would not have taken this action were the government not adding $600/week to people’s checks. The reality, to be completely honest, is that the majority of these theme park workers are going to have a significant amount more take home $$ per week with state Unemployment + Federal contribution ($875/week total) than they would had Disney kept paying them.