Disney World will be bringing back thousands of furloughed workers in the next few weeks and may need to shuffle around some people to replace its college interns, a union leader says.

Eric Clinton, who leads Local 362, gave his union members an update this week that was partially shared on social media with new details on what the theme parks will be like and how Disney will begin to deploy its staff again.

What was it like Wednesday at Universal as passholders and hotel guests return? Here’s what we saw.

Beginning in June, all Disney full-time attractions and custodian workers, as well as a significant number of part-timers, will get called back to work, according to the union. Union members who work at the water parks, which have no immediate plans to reopen, as well as vacation planners and others at closed Disney properties could transfer to other jobs where there are shortages.

About 8,000 people from his local could potentially go back to work, Clinton said. Disney Vacation Club hotels and Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground are reopening June 22 and the theme parks return in July.

“With a focus on the health and wellness of our cast members and guests, we have worked with the unions on a thoughtful plan to bring thousands of our existing cast members back to work as soon as possible in a safe and responsible way,” Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger said.

Some furloughed employees, such as Epcot custodian Ramon Rodriguez, are getting calls to go back before they received unemployment benefits from the state. Furloughs began April 19.

“Sometimes I’m angry. What am I supposed to do? Cry?” said Rodriguez, of Kissimmee, as he has struggled to navigate what many say is a confusing system.

Clinton said Disney is in need of employees to clean around ride queues and to take positions that maintain social distancing in the lines while guests await temperature checks to enter the theme parks.

The company doesn’t plan to bring back seasonal workers or resume the Disney College Program immediately, according to the union.

“If anyone thinks that college program workers are coming back anytime soon, they are mistaken,” Clinton said.

Disney has not given an update yet on the status for the incoming Disney College Program class.

Also gone next month will be the international workers from Epcot’s World Showcase who went back home. They will be temporarily replaced by domestic workers, Clinton said. Disney said it hopes to eventually bring them back.

Employees will also need to staff Spaceship Earth, the ride inside Epcot’s iconic globe, since the ride’s rehabilitation is postponed indefinitely and will remain open, Clinton said.

Spaceship Earth at Epcot can be seen aboard Disney Skyliner, Walt Disney World's new gondola transportation system from this 2019 photo.

Spaceship Earth at Epcot can be seen aboard Disney Skyliner, Walt Disney World’s new gondola transportation system from this 2019 photo. (Patrick Connolly / Orlando Sentinel)

Many workers are asking if their attractions will be open, something that’s still unknown, according to Clinton.

Clinton described Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage, a musical held in an outdoor theater at Hollywood Studios, as an example of something that might not be allowed to open in a post-coronavirus world.

Other rides may need to be closed for parts of the day for cleaning, something once unheard of at Orlando’s theme parks that hardly ever slowed down before March 16 when they voluntarily closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Disney has not shared those details with us,” Clinton said. “What we do know is there’s going to be a massive need for attractions workers across property. … There’s going to be a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Disney has already said it’s eliminating parades, character meet-and-greets and fireworks, all of which would draw major crowds at theme parks when it first reopens.

Don’t ask a cast member to take a photograph with your phone either. Employees will politely decline.

“That’s how serious Disney is taking this,” Clinton said. “That’s a very different Disney World you all worked at back in March.”

Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld must get their massive operations up and running again after more 2 1/2 months of shutdown. Will there be any government oversight to make sure visitors are following the new safety rules?

Clinton praised Disney for its regular talks with the union as both sides deal with unprecedented times and stricter rules.

He cited the case of a Disney Springs custodian who went to the hospital after becoming overheated as an example. In response, Disney is giving employees more breathable, washable masks, he said.

Employees fearful of returning because of their or a family member’s underlying health conditions can postpone their recalls up to a certain point and then would need to take a medical leave of absence, the policy before the coronavirus pandemic.

Workers will undergo temperature checks at work; if they have fevers, they will be sent home but get paid time off while they quarantine, Clinton stressed.

The Magic and Animal kingdoms reopen July 11 while Epcot and Hollywood Studios reopen July 15.

Meanwhile, Disney competitors are opening earlier, including Universal Orlando theme parks on Friday and SeaWorld Orlando June 11.


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