Disney lays off 28,000 workers a month after restoring executive salaries

Chairman Bob Iger left California’s economic recovery task force days later.

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On Tuesday, Disney announced it would lay off more than 28,000 workers from its theme park division, according to the Associated Press. There are more than 100,000 employees at Disneyland and Disney World, making this week’s cuts representative of more than a quarter of the workforce. This news comes a little more than a month after Deadline reported on a memo stating that company executives would return to their pre-pandemic salaries.

On Thursday, Disney chairman Bob Iger resigned from California Governor Gavin Newsom’s economic recovery task force, according to The Sacramento Bee. A Disney spokesperson did not provide The Bee with a specific reason, but the California Attractions and Parks Association has been at odds with the guidelines Newsom was set to announce this week. On Friday, the pressure from local theme parks pushed the governor to delay the announcement, The Los Angeles Times reports.

The unhappiest place on Earth — Though Disney has managed to reopen its theme parks in some markets with limited capacity, the company is feeling the heat of closures and scant attendance where parks are open — Disney’s Parks division made up 37 percent of its 2019 revenue. The ones getting burned, however, have largely been at the bottom of the company org chart.

In April, Disney furloughed more than 100,000 theme park cast members across the globe while still providing health benefits in California and Florida. The move would save the company about $500 million per month. That same month, the company enacted pay cuts for its executive teams as well as for those at Fox Corporation. C-suite cuts at Disney ranged from 20 to 30 percent while CEO Bob Chapek halved his salary and Iger forwent his entire salary. Fox executives took a smaller 15 percent cut.

“The sacrifice you have made over the past several months has allowed us to protect our full-time colleagues with salary and benefit continuation,” reads the memo about the pay reinstatement, according to Deadline. It’s unknown whether Iger or Chapek’s seven-figure salaries have also been brought back.

Five weeks later, 28,000 people have lost their jobs at Disneyland and Disneyworld, though the breakdown of the layoffs is unknown. But the executives sacrificed for a few months, so it’s okay.

Iger wants to open a cesspool — Iger’s departure from the Californian task force doesn’t bode well for a swift opening of Anaheim’s biggest mouse house, but the tide could be turning. When the California Attractions and Parks Association got a peek at Newsom’s likely cautious theme park reopening guidelines on Thursday, everyone pushed back, but Iger had to be the most dramatic.

Though Disney’s theme parks have reopened in Florida, Shanghai, Paris, and Tokyo with safety measures in place, attendance is often lackluster and it’s unclear how safe they really are. Executives were reportedly surprised by the number of cancellations after Disney World reopened. The park managed to reach reduced capacity over Labor Day weekend, but attendance is expected to falter this fall. Iger is likely itching to reopen Disneyland in temperate Southern California, but depending on the revised guidelines, more layoffs could be on the horizon.

Disclosure: One of the author's partners is employed by The Walt Disney Company.