My Ears Were Removed - The 2009 Layoffs

It's A Small World exit
In 2009 Disney laid off thousands of Walt Disney World Cast Members, These are their story's.

To leave Disney is one thing, to have Disney leave you is quite another.
In March 2009, the Orlando Sentinel’s Jason Garcia announced the news Cast Members at Walt Disney World had dreaded;

“Walt Disney World has stepped up layoffs this week, as the company moves ahead with a broad, recession-forced restructuring of its management ranks. Disney, which is Central Florida's largest employer, with about 62,000 'Cast members', refused to say Thursday how many jobs it has eliminated. But, one person familiar with some details of the cuts said he was given an estimate of 450.”
In another article dated April 14, 2009, Garcia gives the total figures as roughly 900 layoffs in Florida this year as part of widespread cost-cutting. Add to this figure the senior management buyouts. The April 16th article talks about the ‘much-quoted Disney spokesperson’, Walt Disney World senior vice president Jerry Montgomery, who accepted one of the voluntary buyouts Disney offered its executives in January.

Reuters reported on January 21, 2009 that The Walt Disney Company had made voluntary buyout offers to 600 executives at its domestic theme parks. It aims to cut costs amid an economic meltdown that has depressed attendance and prompted the company to deeply discount Walt Disney World stays.

In early 2009, The Walt Disney Co. began laying off 1,000 workers from Burbank to Orlando as part of its plan to eliminate 4,000 jobs companywide, which represents about three percent of Cast Members. 

According to a company spokesman, roughly 3,000 people accepted the voluntary separation program leaving about 1,000 who will involuntarily lose their jobs before the end of July 2009. Disney blames the ‘soft economy’ which has hurt theme park attendance and advertising spending at ABC television. The company hopes to save about $400 million annually with these cuts.

The All Business website expects that the areas to be hit hardest by the layoffs are Disneyland and Disney World resorts and the feature animation department, where Disney is cutting several dozen jobs and cutting salaries by up to 50 percent. Other cuts are expected in ABC's news operation and within Disney's movie, music and home entertainment divisions.

The effect on non-executive Cast Members has been tangible, there are groups online devoted to those affected and here at After the we are starting to feel the ripples. A couple of days ago, I put out a request to interview some of those affected by the layoffs. I got quite a few replies. (I’ll say now that I have removed any names from this article).

The first reply came from a former hotel manger, “I had an internship after my first Disney contract which led to a five year career with the same company and my first management job, all the while going to school and coming to Disney during my off semesters. The job was great, but I felt something missing. That something was the feeling only The Mouse could give to its Cast and Guests. I gave up a great career to work for $7 an hour on the front desk; from there I worked my way up to being a Manager”.

“After being laid off, I felt relieved. My only bad feeling at the time was not being able to say good-bye to so many people who have become a part of my extended family, as the exit was quick and unceremonious. I was glad to know that the anxiety everyone was feeling could end as I knew my fate”.

“I think I spent a total of an hour at work on my final day; 15 minutes of that was getting ready for the start of my shift before my leader told me we had to talk with HR and the GM. The last 15 minutes was spent cleaning out my desk and hugging the few people who happened to be walking by as they saw me carrying the box of my personal belongings from my desk to my car”.

“I have been given the services of an outplacement company for 3 months. The services they offer appear to be good, but they seem slow to offer their assistance. I called the night I was let go, and I was finally able to take their introductory ‘webinar’ nearly 3 weeks later”.

“I have had one job offer, but I turned it down given the expectations of the job and the compensation offered. I know that I will take a pay cut given the current advantage employers have with today's unemployment, but I'm not willing to work for a rate of pay where I'm essentially volunteering my services”.

“I honestly don't have any resentment against Disney. Business is business and for the sake of the company, sacrifices had to be made. It stinks that the sacrifice was me.”

One of the saddest things I have read online this last month was a post on this site that simply said “My ears were removed on March 24, 2009”. All over this site it is repeated. What it meant to work for Disney and to have that taken away must be hard. I think the self-confidence and resilience in the former story speaks volumes of the professionalism and the self-confidence that seems to be the mark of a Cast Member.

Others haven’t had the same experience. One veteran Cast Member with several decades under his belt said “It takes twenty years to build a good reputation and only five minutes to destroy it, we’re well past the five minute mark… Walt used to say something to the effect that the cast is what made our company great. Bob, Jay and Al are only thinking bottom-line, not about the impact on the cast.”

“Another, and to me more worrying non-Disney case, is that of a female Cast Member who has again spent more than a decade with the company; “Weren't surprised with Husband's layoff, but to layoff both parents of a family seems cruel. IS cruel! I am confused and hurt as to why there was no filter to prevent such occurrences, especially when I have had solid performance reviews.”

“I suppose I could/should mention that in all this...I miss my Cast DREADFULLY. I was asked to come to our area because they needed the "mom" touch, and I truly became their work-mom. I love them dearly, all 300 of them, and I wake up in tears because I won't get to see them every day. The hours at the MK made it such that I saw these folks MUCH more than I saw my own children, and even though that's a crime, I do love them nearly as much as I love my own flesh and blood.”

Another comment I received was, “My boss has effectively written me off the page. Clearing my desk, taking me off our area distribution list, even though my layoff will not occur until I return [from medical leave]. When I call him to ask questions, he is aloof and distant, as if I was fired. But I am still on their team.”

Cast Members with years of market-leading experience are being cut free and left to find new jobs in a declining market. My personal hope is that the Disney name for excellence in customer service will reflect well on these good people and make them shine out over the heads of other job applicants. I can offer additional advertising for people’s resumes on the site in the hope employers are looking for that ‘Disney Magic’, making them easier to find. In the end, I think having Disney on your employment history will help you stand out.

It pains me that the common thread through most of the comments I have received is that supervising management are stand offish, aloof and disinterested. It is a discredit to a company with a reputation for family values and customer service that it cannot look after its own team in the same manner.

All the comments quoted in this article are as true to the original comments as possible, the only changes I have made are to anonymize them to protect the identities of those who have trusted me with there stories. This does not change the fact that these are the contributors opinions.

It is my fervent hope that the only people who have contacted me are those who have had a bad experience, something out of the ordinary, but I fear that it is not the case and that these sentiments represent a large percentage of those laid off.

To my fellow ex Cast Members, I wish you well and I hope to see you all back in the resorts one day soon.

Looking Back

In uncertain times this article still seems to get a lot of links and reads. I hope all concerned found a new happy place.

Original publication date