The theme park industry has been obviously struggling for more than six months with parks all over the country either closed entirely or only open to a fraction of the normal number of visitors. The biggest company of them all, Disney, has lost billions of dollars in revenue from Disneyland and Walt Disney World due to the closure. For that reason, it was, perhaps unsurprising, if not altogether unexpected, when Disney announced it was cutting its workforce by 28,000 jobs within the Parks, Experiences, and Products division. However, it's now looking like these cuts could have much more long term and far-reaching impact, as it appears over 400 jobs at Walt Disney Imagineering, the division which creates the theme park attractions, are part of the cuts.
Documents viewed by BlogMickey reportedly state that of the 2,700 non-union Disney cast members that are being laid off in California, 411 of them come from Walt Disney Imagineering, which is headquartered in Glendale. The information comes from documents related to the WARN Act, a U.S. labor law that requires advance notification of layoffs for many businesses.
While it's unclear at this time exactly what positions have been impacted by the layoff, 400+ jobs is a lot, and these jobs are only the ones lost in California, there are a handful of Imagineering offices in other states and countries that could also be seeing cuts. Certainly, these aren't only going to be administrative or support positions. There are actual Walt Disney Imagineers who have been let go, and that means potentially long term consequences for the parks like Disneyland and Walt Disney World as the lack of staff will certainly impact future attractions.
Some of these layoffs may be the result of other decisions regarding the future of the parks. We already knew that a redesign to Epcot's Spaceship Earth and a new Mary Poppins attraction were being postponed, and so the staff levels may simply not justify having fewer projects in active development.
Frequently, when layoffs happen it's a "last in, first out" situation where the people with the least seniority are let go first. However, depending on how much financial saving Disney is trying to do here, it's possible jobs could have been cut higher up as well. The more senior staff are going to be the ones being paid more, and so you can actually save more money while eliminating fewer positions. We could see people who have designed incredible experiences that millions of people love be let go.
And of course, it makes one wonder about the future. With 400 fewer people at Walt Disney Imagineering, what will that mean for the future of the parks? We may never even know the full repercussions of this. One of those 400 people may come up with a brilliant attraction idea we never get to see.
It feels morbid to even try and look for a bright side. Maybe those left at WDI will able to take on positions of creative lead that they wouldn't otherwise have had a chance to do. Maybe they'll come up with the next brilliant idea that will revolutionize Disneyland or Walt Disney World.
As somebody who has been through a layoff more than once, my heart is with all those who have found themselves out of work. Losing a job is tough. And those that work at Disney in general, and Walt Disney Imagineering specifically, probably didn't just randomly find themselves in those jobs. These are people who wanted to be part of the organizations they joined, which makes it all that much more heartbreaking.