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Disneyland unions plead to California Gov. Gavin Newsom to reopen parks

Christopher Duarte, Workers United Local 50 President & Workers United International Vice President, joins Yahoo Finance’s Zack Guzman to discuss the push to reopen Disneyland amid COVID-19.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Right now, I want to highlight Disney shares and the movements we're seeing there, as the happiest place on Earth is not so happy right now. That's because of a long, drawn-out back and forth battle to reopen Disneyland. It's resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs there, as California Governor Gavin Newsom refuses to lift park restrictions that have shuttered Disneyland and Universal Studios and other parks in the state since back when the pandemic hit.

And back in June, labor unions there representing park staffers wrote the governor, saying they weren't pleased with the safety protocols Disney had put into place, but recently flipped that stance in a new letter sent yesterday pleading for the park to be reopened. Now Governor Newsom is expected to announce an update in his thinking later today.

And for more on this, I want to bring on Christopher Duarte, the president of Workers United Local 50, a union representing more than 6,500 food and beverage staff over there at Disneyland. And Chris, I guess, just for starters here, obviously, you're got to be close to these discussions. So what are you expecting to hear in the update in thinking from Governor Newsom?

CHRISTOPHER DUARTE: Well, from what we've heard so far, and I think some news that was broken last week, is, we're expecting a yellow tier to be announced for theme parks. And that's essentially a large sticking point right now for us.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, when you think about the yellow tier, it's describing the breakdown here in Governor Newsom's breakdown of how he looks at risks tied to these. There's a tier system for counties there in California.

I just want to highlight kind of the differences that we have seen in one of those measures that he looks at in safety and reopening. That would be the case positivity rate in COVID-19 tests. It's interesting because you've got Disney World, which is reopened, obviously, out in Florida, Orange County, the county over there. Most recently, the positive test rate was 5.3% in Orange County, California, where Disneyland is a much lower 3.5% positivity rate. Yet, the park remains closed.

So what have you seen, I guess, from those who have worked over in Disney World, the union leaders that you speak to there, about how they haven't had issues in that reopening, and what you've learned and apply it to Disneyland now?

CHRISTOPHER DUARTE: Yeah, from our awareness, because the labor on the West Coast talks to each other, and obviously, we have counterparts on the East Coast. From what we've observed, there's not been any significant outbreaks, both from a guest's perspective and a worker perspective.

And over the last few months, we've seen Disney take a lot of measures with PPE, social distancing, sanitation, and other items we brought up, including air circulation filtration, that really mitigate a lot of our concerns we had early on in July. We also have downtown Disney operating here in our coast, the Anaheim, which is a smaller version of downtown Disney or Radiator Springs in Disney World.

And once again, we've seen few cases come out, no serious outbreaks, and no serious-- of guest or cast, and Disney doing a lot of practices that are keeping everyone safe and guests that are adhering to the rules put in place. We're not having fights or anything break out when someone's been told to wear a mask.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, and I mean, obviously, it's important to have safety be top of mind here. Of course, when we think about the company itself, we're talking about $3.8 billion in revenue last year coming in through Disneyland, just that one park, according to Michael Nathanson, an analyst who covers the area.

But I mean, when we talk about the risks and you, as the union leader, has it been more the shift in terms of what Disney is doing on the safety protocols? Or has it been more of the idea of job losses since, you know, in this intense battle back and forth, Disney did announce a 28,000 job rollback across the parks year tied to not being able to open? So which one is it more now? Is it the safety side or the fear of not getting these jobs back that's making you shift into pushing for a reopening now?

CHRISTOPHER DUARTE: Honesly, it's the combination of both. We've seen enough movement through negotiations that we're in a better place, that we're comfortable cast can come back to work and be safe and resume operations, and then, with the layoffs being announced and to be executed in a short time frame, we're thinking ahead. And we see a yellow opening as potential that more layoffs could happen, right?

And we have people that want to go back to work. We have people that are fearful for their jobs. And obviously, their benefits are tied to that employment. And we want to protect them as best we can. And so if we could say it's safe to come back to work and, ideally, have a scenario where we know work is coming, you know, that's what's best for our members.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, I mean, when we talk about the risks, a lot of people were very critical of the move in Disney reopening Disney World when that happened earlier in the year. But as we've said, we necessarily have not seen a spike coming out of that park in cases either on the worker side or the guest side as well.

But Governor Newsom's press conference with that expected later this afternoon. We'll be watching to see how it all plays out. But for now, we'll leave that there. Christopher Duarte, appreciate you joining us with that, and good luck.

CHRISTOPHER DUARTE: Thank you, Zack.