ORLANDO, Fla. — More than 3.1 million Floridians have applied for unemployment benefits since state shutdowns began in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

What You Need To Know

  • DEO: More than 900 companies filed intent to layoff or furlough workers since March

  • Osceola and Orange counties leading the state in unemployment rates 

  • Tourism and hospitality are the 2 hardest-hit industries

  • FLORIDA'S UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM: Your Questions Answered

Extended federal unemployment benefits have since run out, as the U.S. Senate and White House still remain distanced on a new economic relief package. Senate Republicans are proposing a deal that includes another round of $1,200 stimulus payments and extending weekly unemployment benefits through the Fall but at a rate of $200 instead of the original $600.

Data warns while the state struggles to reopen amid a surge of growing coronavirus cases, the state’s economy is far from a “normal”.

In May, the Walt Disney Company said the coronavirus pandemic had a $1 billion impact on its theme parks, including more than $500 million lost from its U.S. theme parks, including Walt Disney World in Orlando. 

On Thursday, during a second-quarter earnings call, NBCUniversal executives announced its theme parks division, which includes Universal Orlando, generated just $87 million, down significantly from the $1.46 billion earned during the same period last year.

SeaWorld Orlando also announced this week that it predicted revenues will be approximately $18 million in the quarter, down from $406 million the same time a year ago. 

State data shows as many return to work, companies are still laying off workers, or at least warning they may do so.

At least 579,000 Floridians filed new unemployment claims in the month of July alone, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s reemployment dashboard.

A Spectrum News review of Florida Dept. of Economic Opportunity data shows more than 900 companies reported to the state they were, or intend to, laying off 115,578 people since March 13.

In July so far, 69 companies have notified DEO of intentions to lay off and/or extend furloughs of 15,044 workers. The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act requires companies to notify states of intentions of layoffs, which is separate from furloughs.

WalletHub estimates the state of Florida has the lowest employment recovery rate in the nation.

Tourism and hospitality is hardest hit, with Osceola (39.6 percent) and Orange (29.5 percent) counties leading the state in unemployment rates because of the significance of tourism in the local economies.

In addition to area hotels and resorts laying off workers, two central sites impacted include Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World Resort.

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World Resort notified the State of Florida May 4 it was laying off 6,882 college and international program participants

“The Company anticipates recruiting for the College and Professional Internship Programs in the future, at which time, the Company will invite those affected by the early termination of the programs to re-apply,” Disney’s Jim Bowden, Vice President of Employee Relations, told the state in a letter. 

Walt Disney World reopened July 11, recalling an undisclosed number of their furloughed 77,000 cast members. 

Unite Here Local 737 represents more than 19,000 Walt Disney World workers.

“Only 7,000 have returned to work, leaving 12,000 workers and their families at the mercy of the broken unemployment system," the union said in a statement pushing for an extension to unemployment benefits.

Disney also laid off more than 1,000 contracted workers from its Buena Vista Construction Company as parts of the coronavirus-related park closures. 

A number of third party operators at Walt Disney World have also been forced to lay off staff.

Palmas Restaurant group laid off employees at restaurants they operate at EPCOT’s Mexico pavilion. 

Delaware North notified Florida Department of Economic Opportunity on July 9 it was laying off hundreds of workers across their properties.

This included nearly 300 layoffs at its restaurants at EPCOT’s Italy pavilion and Disney Springs, which include: Pizza Ponte, Enzo’s Hideaway, Maria & Enzo’s, Morimoto Asia, and The Edison.

Delaware North also laid off:

  • 525 people at Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex
  • 85 at Daytona Beach Kennel Club
  • 592 at Tampa Sportsserve and elsewhere

Eileen Morgan, Chief Human Resources Officer, told DEO in a letter the company made the cuts after what was expected to be temporary furloughs less than six months.

“The pandemic has proved longer in duration and more devastating than anyone could have predicted,” Morgan said. “This was an unforeseen business circumstance that renders us unable to forecast the precise timeline for business to resume to a level sufficient to return all of our associates to work. Thus, it is reasonably foreseeable that many associates will not return to work within six months.”

Levy Restaurant Group told the state June 29 it would lay off 271 workers at its two restaurants at Disney Springs, Paddlefish and Terralina Crafted Italian. Levy Restaurant Group also laid off the same day 448 people employed at Amway Center in downtown Orlando. 

Swan and Dolphin Resort notified DEO on June 4 it was at least extending unpaid furloughs of 1,999 people.

“These expanded and extended government directives have caused a sudden, severe and worsening downturn in the hospitality industry that now makes it reasonably foreseeable that these temporary actions may extend beyond six months,” Donna Stanton, human resources director, told DEO in a letter.

Four Seasons at Walt Disney World notified the state on March 25 it would furlough 835 people.

Cirque Du Soleil faced a round of layoffs between March and July, including laying off 151 people in Pompano Beach, 124 people from their shows, including Blue Man Group, as Universal Orlando Resort, and 36 people at its production at Disney Springs.

Like most companies, Cirque Du Soleil blamed “unforeseeable business circumstances” for the layoffs, which at Disney Springs, include a variety of roles including technicians, retails, and riggers.

Mears Transportation, which operates Taxis and Disney’s Magical Express Service, reported to the state on June 8 it laid off 72 office workers.

The extent of the prolonged impacts are still unknown. For those who remain furloughed from their jobs, there also remains uncertainty of if or when they’ll return to work. 

Hotels and Resorts

State data also reveals context to what Rosen Hotels and Resorts first described as “significant layoffs”.

The locally owned resort company told FL DEO that it would lay off 1,107 workers and furlough another 841 workers.

“Never in the 46-year history of my company would I have envisioned such a drastic decision,” founder Harris Rosen wrote in a letter. “This is especially painful for me, as I consider these valued associates as extended members of the Rosen family, without whose contributions our company would never have achieve the success it has through the years.”

Rosen is only currently operating one of its eight properties.

Area hotels appear to have the largest number of layoffs.

Gaylord Palms Resorts and Convention Center notified the state June 12 that 1,311 employees would likely remain on unpaid furlough, at the least, for more than six months.

Hilton Grand Vacations of Orlando reported July 6 it would extend furloughs of approximately 1,550 people.

“While we continue to hope these furloughs will be temporary, in light of the current and unexpected circumstances, we are now unsure when we will be able to return the affected employees to work on a consistent basis,” Lisa Dupuree of Hilton Grand Vacations told DEO in a letter. “Accordingly, and in an abundance of caution, effective July 1, 2020, we want to let you know that although we still expect these furloughs to be temporary, we simply cannot predict a return date at this juncture and the furloughs now may, or may not, extend beyond six months.”

Bluegreen Vacations of Orlando announced May 11 it would extend furloughs of 356 people.

Hyatt Regency announced June 8 it would roll out extended furloughs and layoffs impacting at least 694 people from its hotel on International Drive and another 220 people from its hotel at Orlando International Airport.

Meanwhile the nonprofit Give Kids the World, which operates a village resort for families with seriously ill children, announced June 9 it would lay off 171 people.

Orlando International Airport

Several major airlines are warning they too are eyeing likely plans to lay off tens of thousands of workers, including some in Central Florida.

Each blaming the dramatic drop in travel demand.

Phil Brown, executive director of Orlando International Airport, told Spectrum News in May that travel operations at MCO were down 98 percent; seeing approximately 263 daily flights when normal times would bring about 900 daily flights.

There remains just a fraction of the typical 25,000 people who would work throughout the airport.

HMSHost announced June 25 it had already furloughed 807 restaurant and service workers at Orlando International Airport, and there is potential those furloughs could become permanent. 

United Airlines announced July 20 it was laying off 447 workers at Orlando International Airport and another 109 workers at Tampa International Airport.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on travel demand and on our business,” Kate Gebo, United’s vice president of human resources and labor relations, told FL DEO in a letter. “Governmental restrictions on travel, stay-at-home orders, and the lack of a medical solution for the virus brought bookings and demand for travel to a near standstill. And while demand has moved slightly upward from its April low, of down 95 percent, we have lost billions of dollars over this three-month period and are still spending far more than we are taking in. Additionally, we expect that travel demand will not go back to “normal” until there is a vaccine for COVID-19.”

United’s cuts at Orlando International Airport include:

  • 34 flight attendants
  • 145 line technicians
  • 55 ramp service employees
  • 38 customer service representatives
  • 80 avionics technicians

Federal Aid Provided Only Temporary Relief

The extent of the layoffs raise questions about how these companies used any money they received from the Paycheck Protection Program, part of the CARES Act and other federal aid. 

A search of federal data shows Delaware North received at least $350,000 to $1 million in PPP loans. Cirque Entertainment LLC received at least one PPP loan ranging $150,000 to $350,000.

Rosen Hotels & Resorts received three PPP loans, each for $2 million to $5 million.

As many companies said in letters to Florida DEO, the problem seems to be many of these companies are seeing extended losses as the turnaround for the hospitality industry moves at a glacial pace. They fear they will not see a return to normalcy in the next six months.

Indeed, GOAA CEO Phil Brown told Spectrum News in May that it could take five years for passenger traffic at Orlando International Airport to reach pre-COVID-19 numbers.

United Airlines alone received $3.5 billion in grants and $1.5 billion in low interest loans as part of the Federal Aid Program. United warned in early July it was looking to lay off up to 36,000 employees because of the pandemic. The scheduled layoffs will happen this fall when payroll funding assistance runs out.

U.S. airlines collectively split more than $31 billion in federal aid in exchange for promises not to lay off workers at least until October 1.

While unions are urging Congress to extend another six months of payroll aid, Florida-based Spirit Airlines warned it could lay off up to 9,000 workers (30 percent of its workforce) in October.

American Airlines also warned this month that it could lay off as many as 25,000 (30 percent of workforce) employees including pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and airport workers.