The Walt Disney Co. announced on April 19 that it would stop paying 100,000 of its "cast members," the employees working at the Parks, Experiences, and Products division.
As the latest press release reveals, the company will continue to provide healthcare benefits for employees working in customer-facing roles. Instead of paying wages, the company urged staff to apply for coronavirus stimulus checks.
So, did The Walt Disney Co. stop paying employees?
The decision affects at least 100,000 employees, most of whom work in the U.S.
The Walt Disney Co. shut down most of its theme parks within the first week of March. The company pledged to pay "cast members," the employees working in customer-facing roles for five weeks afterward.
From April 20, however, those working in "non-essential roles" will have to apply for the $600 a week federal support available through the coronavirus rescue package.
Those working in Orlando, Fla., will be facing the most significant setbacks, as they will be only be entitled to $275 a week. Florida offers one of the lowest unemployment benefit rates in the whole of the U.S.
Those working at Disneyland Paris will be placed on the so-called partial activity scheme, the French equivalent of the coronavirus stimulus bill.
The Parks, Experiences, and Products division is responsible for about half of the company's operating profits. Last year alone, the parks and retail operations generated about $7 billion. According to the Financial Times, the step will save The Walt Disney Co. around $500 million a month.
The decision garnered widespread scrutiny among employees and beyond. Some argue that this was an unnecessarily drastic step that puts 100,000 employees — some of whom are already close to the breadline — at risk of extreme financial instability.
Others prompt that the coronavirus preparations impact hourly paid workers significantly worse than their salaried counterparts, and board members in particular.
The company refuses to cover the wages of its hourly-paid employees — but dividend payments will go ahead without interruption. As the Financial Times reveals, shareholders are set to receive a total of $1.5 billion in July.
Many took it to Twitter to criticize the entertainment and media giant.
"@Disney will stop paying >100,000 employees — nearly HALF its workforce. Staff must rely on state benefits that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars over coming months, but executive-bonus schemes and a $1.5 billion dividend payment are protected," tweeted a person.
"So #Disney stops paying more than 100,000 employees this week, more than half its workforce, but protects executive bonuses and a $1.5B dividend payout due in July. Anyone else smell a rat?" tweeted someone else.
And it's not only those on social media who stood up against The Walt Disney and Co. Experts came forward to denounce the company for its deeply unjust decision as well.
"They could afford [not furloughing staff]," equity research analyst Rich Greenfield told Financial Times.
"With labour accounting for approximately 45 percent of operating expenses and 33 per ent of total expenses, we assume notable savings," the managing director of JP Morgan, Alexia Quadrani told the outlet.
The Walt Disney Co. furloughed its employees indeterminately. It's understood that the parks are preparing for long-term closures that can last up to half a year.
It's uncertain when the unpaid employees will be able to return to work — if they will be able to do so at all.