Disney, the world’s largest theme-park operator, also reinstated its paid summer internship program, which lets students live in dedicated apartments while they work in the Orlando, Florida, resorts.
It’s a sign of how tight the labor market has become, with domestic travel roaring back at a time when many potential workers are still at home. The overall unemployment rate in Orlando was 5.6% in April, a third of what it was a year ago.
At Florida’s Walt Disney World -- which includes four theme parks and a couple dozen hotels -- about 33,000 of the more than 41,000 members of the Service Trades Council Union have returned to work, according to Matt Hollis, president of that worker coalition. About 15,000 of the 32,000 workers at California’s Disneyland resort have returned, the company said.
Disney, which was forced to close its theme parks around the world due to the coronavirus, announced plans in September to lay off 28,000 employees, a number that later grew to 32,000 companywide. Most of them were at its domestic resorts.
Disney said it has rehired more than three-quarters of those affected by furloughs and work reductions. Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, has been bringing back 300 staffers a week, and the company wants to hire thousands more at its U.S. resorts this summer and fall.
Enhanced federal unemployment benefits, enacted in the wake of the pandemic, may be one reason employees aren’t returning to work. They were set to end June 26 in Florida, which opted not to continue them, but will last until September in California.
Another union executive said some California employees are reluctant to return to the parks, which no longer take the temperatures of guests coming in the gates and don’t require masks, except in select areas like buses. Guests who self-identify as unvaccinated are encouraged to wear them, however.
Another challenge is finding safe child and elder care in the wake of the pandemic, when unemployed workers have gotten used to staying at home. Many of those being asked to return have the least seniority and less certainty in their work schedules when recalled. Disney said it offers employees support for child and senior care, as well as other services to help families.
Disney is hardly unique in struggling to find workers. Six Flags Entertainment Corp. is offering higher wages and bonuses of up to $1,000 for employees who join by July 1. SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.’s website lists dozens of open positions, from animal trainer to overnight cleaning crew supervisor.
Southwest Airlines Co. said Friday it was increasing its minimum wage to $15 an hour and boosting compensation for 7,000 workers.
Read more: Southwest boots minimum wage to $15
Chris Nassetta, chief executive officer of Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., told Bloomberg Television on Thursday that he expects this to be the strongest summer for leisure travel in the chain’s history. Staffing remains a major problem, with unemployment benefits and child care two of the biggest obstacles keeping people from returning to work.
“The reality is things have recovered much more quickly than any of us expected, and it’s very difficult to get folks to come back to serve customers," he said.