Once at odds over worker safety, labor unions are now joining Disney in requesting state approval to reopen the company’s massive, tourist-heavy Anaheim theme park in the midst of a pandemic.
The shift comes just as an update on California’s Coronavirus public health policies regarding theme park reopenings is expected to be made tomorrow.
“We’re being really sober and, forgive me, stubborn about some industries in the state that I know are eager to get guidelines,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a Monday news conference.
“Tomorrow, (officials) will update you on some of those industries and guidelines, including sports and some of these theme parks — we’re gonna break up the theme parks, not just one or two brands, it’s many different parts of the theme park industry.”
He said little beyond that about what state officials have in store. Earlier this month, Newsom hinted at allowing smaller theme parks to reopen first.
The announcement will come after repeated demands by the company and various local officials representing the Disneyland resort’s surrounding cities to issue guidance on how to get the park back online.
This time they’re joined by unions representing the park’s workers, which at one point battled Disney over whether early plans to reopen over the Summer were premature and unsafe.
The unions also voiced concern earlier this month about worker compensation amid the pandemic and stemming the ensuing layoffs.
That mood appears to have changed in a letter the unions — including Unite HERE Local 11 — sent to Newsom on Oct. 17.
“We wrote you in June 2020 to tell you that we were not yet convinced that it was safe to reopen the parks on Disney’s timetable. Since then, Disney has taken safety measures we advocated, and engaged with their workers’ representatives, that our original position has changed,” the letter reads.
It continues: “The company has provided detail on serious measures to protect workers via social distancing, providing PPE, addressing ventilation, and more. Most recently, the company unveiled a testing program, something we highlighted in our last letter to you.”
Many of the Disney unions also have reached deals with Disney for recall protections for laid off workers, according to a statement from Unite HERE Local 11, like two-weeks’ pay for quarantined or exposed employees, two-month’s pay for laid off workers and recall protections.
Unite HERE Local 50 spokesperson Chris Duarte said there are always going to be members inside the unions who are still unsure about returning to work due to family health concerns, and that the unions’ deal with Disney has baked into it protections for those employees’ rights when given the option of coming back to work.
Yet the reopening of the park could coincide with an influx of travel and/or visitors to California during the holiday season — something Newsom on Monday said was a real concern in terms of how it could ramp up the state’s infection rates.
“This is an area of obvious and real concern,” Newsom said.
Asked about what the unions’ calls to reopen Disney could mean for public health in the region, Duarte said “we think we’ve done a lot of walkthroughs and observations and, paying attention to Downtown Disney (which was allowed to reopen earlier this year) and how everything has gone … we haven’t heard horror stories …”
“There’s confidence we can have the park to reopen soon and do it in a safe manner which gets a lot of people back to work,” Duarte said.
“More layoffs means more people losing their health insurance, which in a public health crisis doesn’t help anyone at all.”
The unions join a chorus of local elected officials who’ve been calling on Newsom to allow Disneyland to reopen. Much of those calls come from local officials like Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, as well as a bipartisan corner of the State Legislature, which sent a reopening letter to Newsom.
Disneyland officials tried opening in July for its 65 anniversary, but the summer case spikes and hospitalizations caused Newsom to back off the idea.
“Again, I hope one recognizes our stubbornness on a health-first, data-driven decision making process with our eyes wide open,” Newsom said during the Monday news conference.
Before his Monday announcement, he’s consistently hinted at releasing theme park guidelines “soon.”
But earlier this month, Newsom said large theme parks like Disneyland probably won’t open anytime soon.
“It’s very complex. These are like small cities, small communities,” Newsom said at an Oct. 7 news conference. “But we don’t anticipate in the immediate term any of these larger theme parks reopening until we see more stability in terms of the data.”
Meanwhile, county health officer Dr. Clayton Chau has advocated for Disneyland to reopen if Orange County moves into the Tier Three, or the Orange Tier, on the state’s four-tiered coronavirus business reopening system.
OC is currently in Tier Two, the Red Tier. That means restaurants, churches, gyms, movie theaters and malls can resume indoor business operations.
The new statewide health metric is holding OC from moving into the Orange Tier, which would see bowling alleys reopen and bars open for outside operations — although many bars in North OC are currently open. The new tier would also allow more people inside businesses that are already open.
County CEO Frank Kim also said he supports Disneyland’s reopening and wrote a letter on their behalf, which was sent to state officials.
OC officials have railed against the new health metric and have asked the state for more local control. Yet the last time OC had local control over masks, Chau walked back the order in June.
Shortly after, cases and hospitalizations spiked and Newsom eventually issued a statewide mask order.
The testing positivity rate in the neighborhood next to Disneyland is currently 7.4 — more than twice the countywide average.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @photherecord.