Roughly 43,000 unionized employees at Walt Disney World will be temporarily laid off starting April 19 as the resort remains closed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

April 19 is the same date that furloughs will take effect for executive, salaried, and non-union hourly employees at Disney World. Until now, Disney had continued to pay workers despite theme parks having last hosted guests on March 15. 

“This is a decision that the union doesn’t like, however, it’s within the company’s rights to lay off and furlough employees in this situation,” Unite Here Local 362 president Eric Clinton said on a live stream Saturday. “We had won five weeks of pay for our members up until this point, which in and of itself was a historical agreement, but after the company made this decision, we’ve been bargaining with them to secure guarantees and a commitment from the company so that our members are protected in a time of great uncertainty.”

The deal applies to workers represented by a coalition of six unions known as the Service Trades Council Union, whose members work in positions ranging from housekeepers to bus drivers at Disney World. The same coalition that negotiated for a minimum wage increase in 2018. 

Highlights of the agreement include:

  • Medical, dental and life insurance benefits will be maintained for up to 12 months. Disney will pay 100% of the insurance costs and union members will not owe back payments when they return to work.
  • If a covered employee needs COVID-19 testing, Disney will pay for it.
  • New employees can enroll in health coverage after their regular 90-day probationary period ends. 
  • Job, seniority, wage rate and benefits are guaranteed throughout the length of furlough, even if workers remain on furlough after Disney World reopens. 
  • Workers can choose to use vacation, paid time off and floating holidays paid out until it is gone, but must elect to use those benefits by April 18.
  • Disney Aspire benefits will continue during the furlough. 
  • When the resort begins to reopen, members will be recalled based on seniority.

A small number of positions — Clinton said it was less than 200 — have been deemed essential and will continue paid work during the furlough period. These will be offered by seniority, but continuing to work will be done on a voluntary basis. If not enough people volunteer, the union says those roles will be assigned to the least senior workers, and no one will be penalized if they have a “legitimate health, safety, childcare or other reason you cannot work.”

You can read the full agreement here

In contrast to the Disney union deal, the non-unionized Universal Orlando is continuing to pay its full-time employees, though at a reduced rate beginning April 20. Part-time hourly employees will be furloughed starting May 3. 

STCU president Matt Hollis seemed to allude to Universal’s policies in response to comments on Facebook Live stream.

“I also see a lot of the other comments and they’re about comparing different things,” Hollis said. “It should be emphasized that we have a signed agreement with the company that protects these benefits for all the Service Trades Council employees. That’s a very important thing.” 

The agreement acknowledges the “unknown duration of the closure.” While Disney is accepting reservations for June 1 and beyond, some terms of the agreement, including maintaining health benefits, are secured for 12 months, not indefinitely. 

“Hopefully, we’ll be back to work sooner than that,” Hollis said. 

The agreement means Disney World workers will soon have to apply for unemployment benefits through a backlogged system that has been difficult for many to access. The unions plan on applying political pressure to Gov. Ron DeSantis to address these issues. 

“I’m very concerned with the bottleneck with unemployment right now,” said Serena James, shop steward with International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 631.