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Disneyland employees facing an uncertain future as park, governor at odds over reopening

Posted at 11:08 AM, Oct 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-19 14:08:02-04

Disney wants to reopen its theme parks in California. But Governor Gavin Newsom says it's not safe yet. Caught in between are the thousands of Disney employees facing layoffs and an uncertain future. Stephanie Elam has the details.

Disneyland is known as the happiest place on earth. For some people, that's more than a slogan.

Designer Mark Griffin gives Disneyland that holiday magic. In two stints he's worked more than a decade at the park. This month he was told it would all be coming to an end. Disney announced that they were laying off some 28,000 employees.

"My return to Disney is like my return to home. I started there as a teenager," said Griffin. "It's devastating. We're all worried about our livelihood. I'm worried. Am I going to be able to stay in this house? Am I going to keep a roof over my kids' heads? I'm 52 and on food stamps for the first time in my life."

After Disney World's May re-opening in Florida, Disneyland hoped to re-open in July. But California's summer COVID-19 spike led Governor Gavin Newsom to put that on hold. He repeated his "health first" approach to theme parks.

"They're cities, they're small cities and there are people that come from all around the world that descend, not just people that are approximate to these theme parks, that come together and mix," said Newsom.

Disney fired back. Its chief medical officer tweeted "We absolutely reject the suggestion that reopening Disneyland is incompatible with a health-first approach. we have taken a robust science-based approach."

The longer that Disneyland stays closed the harder the impact on the economy. And it's not just Disneyland employees, the entire region relies on the tourism that comes here because of the park. Over 264,000 jobs lost in the Anaheim area due to COVID-19.

Anaheim's public officials launched a campaign to push back against the governor. In a letter 19 Califronia lawmakers told Newsom of news reports that "outbreaks simply aren't being traced back to theme parks" that have already reopened.

But Newsom wants his answers. He sent his health officials to inspect safety protocols at Disney World in Florida and to tour California parks.

"We wanted to show them firsthand that it's not what you're thinking. Walking through the park and seeing all the signage, the plexiglass, the staff that they'll have there visibly cleaning all the high-touch surfaces," said Erin Guerrero, California Association of Parks and Attractions.

Not everyone is jumping to re-open for the sake of the economy. Guzman is a housekeeper at the Disneyland hotel and one of nearly 3,000 Unite Here Local 11 service workers at the park. She wants to go back but is worried about the virus.

"It scares me. if I bring that home, I can lose my mom, my children. That's a deadly disease," said Guzman.

Griffin agrees safety is priority one. Followed closely by a return of the magic.

"We make the magic. The thought of losing that I'm in kind of withdrawals from that, you know, it. It's definitely a part of my -- Disney is my identity."