UPDATE, with Disney response Actors’ Equity Association says Walt Disney World has “locked out” its union members as a way of retaliating against Equity’s demand for coronavirus testing as a condition for returning to work, while Disney says park safety protocols have been accepted by other unions.
Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is set to begin a phased reopening this Saturday, July 11. In announcing the grievance today, Equity, which represents about 750 park employees, said that Walt Disney World rescinded its previous decision to recall the resort’s actors after the union demanded testing.
“Since our public request that Disney test performers in the park, there have been more than 114,000 new coronavirus cases in Florida,” Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity Association, said in a statement today. “Rather than agree to testing of performers, Disney has decided to retaliate against workers fighting for a safe workplace during this pandemic.”
In an email to Deadline, a Disney spokesperson said, “Seven unions signed agreements to have their employees return to work, the Actors’ Equity rejected our safety protocols and have not made themselves available to continue negotiations, which is unfortunate. We are exercising our right to open without Equity performers.”
According to Equity, Disney said on June 23 that it would recall Equity members for rehearsals in late June/early July. On June 25, Equity issued a public statement calling for the park’s actors to be tested since social distancing was not practical. Equity says Walt Disney World rescinded its recall notices for Equity members on June 26.
As Deadline reported exclusively last week, Equity’s executive committee unanimously rejected Walt Disney World’s reopening safety plan for workers because the proposal does not include coronavirus testing for the park’s performers. Several days later, Walt Disney World posted YouTube video of non-Equity park employees happily returning to work, and the park’s official blog indicated that “tens of thousands of cast members” were preparing to return for the July 11 opening.
The phrase “Cast Members” is a Disney resorts term that covers not only performers but ride and attraction attendees, workers in the park’s retail stores and even some security positions. Employees dressed in character costumes greeting visitors are represented by the Teamsters. The Equity members appear in staged productions such as the park’s Beauty and The Beast Live On Stage and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.
Walt Disney World’s coronavirus safety precautions include enhanced cleanings, physical distancing, reduced contact, mandatory face coverings for all guests and cast members and possible temperature readings.
In April, Equity retained Dr. David Michaels, the former head of OSHA under President Obama, to advise on health and safety protocols. Among Michaels’ suggested protocols for reopening theater venues is testing.
Yesterday, Walt Disney World posted a YouTube video demonstrating its newly instituted COVID safety measures for staff: