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Disney announces more layoffs as Polk County’s unemployment rate begins to rebound

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POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – More layoffs at the Walt Disney Co. means more bad news for Polk County as it continues to have Tampa Bay’s highest unemployment rate.

In a filing Wednesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, The Walt Disney Co. announced it plans to lay off 4,000 more employees by 2021.

That will bring its total workforce reduction to 32,000. It announced 28,000 layoffs in September.

Many of the layoffs have been in the Parks, Experiences and Products division, which includes the Orlando parks.

Thirty seven thousand Disney employees are currently on furlough as of early October “as a result of COVID-19’s impact on our businesses,” the filing reads.

Disney could take further action including “implementing additional furloughs or reductions in force.”

“You got thousands of people laid off. We’ve run out of unemployment benefits. The little bit of extra you got was gone. That went pretty quick. So now they’re trying to struggle to make ends meet,” said Ed Chambers, United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1625 President.

Chambers, who is based out of Polk County, represents thousands of Disney cast members.

He has seen first hand the impact the pandemic has had on an otherwise dependable central Florida industry.

“Our union has made large contributions to the food banks in central Florida to help those guys get through but eventually, something’s gotta change,” he said.

In May, Polk County’s unemployment rate peaked at just over 19%.

The northeast corner of the county has been the hardest because many of its residents commute to the tourism hub to the east.

“Polk County is cheaper to live here than it is Orange or Osceola. A lot of the folks they live here and then commute up to the Orlando area to work,” said Kelly Callihan, Davenport City Manager, this summer.

The latest data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity shows Polk County’s unemployment rate has rebounded to 7.3% but it remains the highest in Tampa Bay.

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