In early July, the Walt Disney Company reopened parts of two amusement parks: Disney World near Orlando, Florida, and Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The former reopened to house the tightly controlled 13-week experiment known as the NBA Bubble, in which staff, players, coaches, and personnel adhered to strict social distancing guidelines and isolation requirements, paired with regular on-site testing. The latter welcomed back its workers with less grandeur, opening up a sprawling outdoor shopping district called Downtown Disney, with a select staff of several hundred.
Though they reopened within days of each other, the two parks worked with wildly different resources. Unlike the Bubble, the Downtown Disney district had no on-site testing. In a letter to the unions in June, Disney Labor Relations Director Bill Pace called testing “not viable” and prone to “false negatives,” in spite of the fact that it has been implemented in Orlando. Likewise, the district did not contain its visitors, but allowed streams of thousands to pass in and out of the area with little more than a temperature check. But the most alarming difference, cast members told The Daily Beast, involved the district’s shadowy contact tracing.
Four sources familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast that Disney has kept the total number of positive cases at the district under wraps, alerting unions only to the positive test results of their members—often days after the fact, risking further exposure—and leaving workers to guess for themselves why colleagues disappeared for days at a time, or why 11 people from the 12-person Horticulture Irrigation team didn’t show up to work for a full week.
“We want to know if any cast members have tested positive. But Disney has taken the position that they’re only going to tell us if our cast members do,” said Matt Bell, a spokesperson for UFCW Local 324, one of a dozen unions representing workers, or “cast members,” at Disneyland. “What is supposed to happen is contact tracing—find out who was exposed and quarantine them as well. I can’t confirm that they’ve done that.”
“Basically all of our COVID information has come from word of mouth,” said Alicia*, the spouse of a cast member whose contract prohibits them from speaking to the press, “co-workers texting each other, co-workers talking to each other, and things that my [spouse] has seen on the job. None of this is from any of the managers. Disney management is not really officially acknowledging that any of this is happening.”
Disney did not respond to more than eight requests for comment.
Matt*, who requested anonymity out of fear for his job, has worked at Disney for four years as a plumber. Back in March, he was furloughed with the vast majority of Disney’s workers, cashing out vacation days to make ends meet. When Disney recalled workers to reopen parts of the park in late June, Matt was not too concerned. He worked outside mostly, often alone. The job already required wearing a mask and latex gloves, because of the pesticides in Disney’s soil. “It looks pretty,” he said, “but it’s a bunch of chemicals.
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SOURCE: Daily Beast, Tarpley Hitt