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Are Job Furloughs Coming to Disney?

Meredith Stiehm, left, president of Writers Guild of America West, and Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA
Credit: Herman de Keyperling, Flickr

As nearly everyone remembers, back in March 2020, nearly every business in the country was forced to shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That included Disney, which had to shut down all movie and television productions, as well as all its theme parks. Some Disney Parks were just shut down for several months, but others — like Disneyland Resort — we closed for more than a year. It was also almost a year before productions could start up again, with a lot of rules and safety measures in place.

Disney World Cast Members Face Masks

Credit: Disney

During the height of the pandemic, Disney could not continue to employ its thousands of employees. While the company had to lay off some of its loyal employees, it furloughed thousands of them. That meant that the employees could collect unemployment while keeping their health insurance. Then, when things began to open up, those furloughed employees would have a job to go back to.

In May 2023, more than 11,000 Hollywood writers went on strike when they failed to come to an agreement with the studios. Then, just two months later, most of Hollywood’s actors and actresses went on strike when the studios also failed to negotiate with them. Now, studios have no writers working on films and television shows, and no stars to act in them. These dual strikes — the first in more than 60 years — have shut down a majority of the entertainment industry.

SAG-AFTRA strike

Credit: ABC

According to a new report from Deadline Hollywood, productions are at a low not seen since the height of the pandemic.

On-location shooting days for locally produced TV comedies was down 72.8% in the second quarter of 2023 compared to the same period last year. And the five-year average of second quarters was even worse for comedies, down by 77.1%. Filming of TV dramas, meanwhile, plunged 63.8%, and shoot days for feature films were off by 18.9%.

“The last time production levels were this low, we were in the middle of a global pandemic,” said FilmLA President Paul Audley. “Families and businesses affected then are again being tested today, lending urgency to the moment to sustain creative careers.”

FilmLA’s latest report for the second quarter – from April 1 through June 30 – includes two months of the WGA strike, which began on May 2, but doesn’t include the shutdown caused by the SAG-AFTRA strike, which began July 14. If those strikes continue to drag on, third-quarter figures likely will be much worse.

Writers Strike

Credit: Josie Huang Twitter

With almost no productions happening, it begs the question — Will studios, including Disney, once again have to furlough thousands of employees?

Disney has not said that it has any plans to furlough its employees at this time. There is still some work as studios can get ahead on certain projects before filming and writing can once again resume. However, there is only so much work to be done before a wall is hit. Films like the live-action Moana and a number of Marvel films have already been paused, and several have pushed back release dates.

Disney’s Haunted Mansion world premiere was also the first film to have a red carpet premiere during the strike. The premiere happened at Disneyland Resort, but none of the film’s stars were in attendance as they stood in solidarity with the strike.

Haunted Mansion Premiere

Credit: Mademoiselle Papel Instagram

The WGA and SAG-AFTRA have shown no signs that they are willing to back down on their demands. The WGA is asking for studios to increase their pay, which has been tremendously impacted by the relevance of streaming and the shorter seasons that most streaming shows have. SAG has several demands, with some of the biggest being the use of AI. There are also a lot of issues with residuals — money made each time a show is streamed or re-aired. Many noted celebrities have come forward saying that they have received checks for as low as a penny in residuals.

WGA Strike

Credit: Diane Greene Lent, Flickr

Hollywood studios are also not indicating that they are willing to give in. Disney CEO Bob Iger recently sat down for an interview and said that the actors’ union is not being realistic in its demands. Since the interview, he has been dealing with A LOT of backlash, mainly because he is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and telling other people they are unrealistic. SAG President Fran Drescher has repeatedly dragged Iger for his comments.

Fran Drescher SAG Strike

Credit: ABC

Sadly, with both sides at an impasse, there are a lot of people who are out of work. They are not well-known, and they are not in the WGA or SAG, but they are essential crew members. Studios are losing thousands, if not millions, of dollars per day with productions on pause and being pushed back. Studios can only continue to pay people for so long before they can no longer financially justify it.

If things continue to remain at a standstill, it may be just a couple of months before the studios announce more layoffs and furloughs.

About Krysten Swensen

A born and bred New England girl living the Disney life in Southern California. I love to read, to watch The Golden Girls, and love everything to do with Disney and Universal. I also love to share daily doses of Disney on my Disney Instagram @BrazzleDazzleDisney!

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