March of this year saw many changes to the world we live in. Schools transitioning to distance learning, businesses closing their doors and employers deciding who they consider an essential worker. For my coworkers and I at Knott’s Berry Farm, this was the beginning of a long and complicated quarantine experience.
Theme parks around the world have been closed for the first time in the history of their operation leaving employees to navigate through a process that no one has experienced before. At Knott’s Berry Farm we took this situation one day at a time.
On March 12th, Cedar Fair, the company that owns Knott’s Berry Farm, announced on their website and social media,
“Cedar Fair’s highest priority is always the safety of our guests and associates. All Cedar Fair properties intend to welcome guests in accordance with our published schedules, and we continue to implement preventive measures as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as our own health and hygiene protocols.”
Then, within 24 hours, the park was shut down.
“Beginning March 14, Knott’s Berry Farm will close temporarily through the end of the month. We continue to follow guidance from local and state officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC),” read another Statement put out by the park on social media and their park website on March 13.
This is when employees put on gloves and a mask to disinfect every surface they could find, thinking the park could open again soon once things were under control. My coworkers and I began answering calls from guests who were speculating how long this closure would last, if their tickets would still be valid or if they still had to pay for their season passes. With the situation still developing the answers we gave were changing all the time leaving both guests and employees frustrated.
Although Cedar Fair’s intent was to open the park back up by the end of March, that was not possible. In what seemed like a quick decision, employees at Knott’s were told they could no longer come to work. We were told that we would be paid for our currently scheduled shifts but nothing after that and that we should apply for unemployment.
Theme park employees want to see their parks reopen but it is the responsibility of theme parks to keep their employees safe and taken care of.
Now in October of 2020, months after theme parks were first shut down, things are getting better for some and worse for others. Employees at Knott’s have taken comfort in the small-scale in-park dining and shopping events that are taking place, hoping that Knott’s can ensure their jobs are safe. While guests cannot enjoy every aspect of the park, like rides, they can enter Knott’s Berry Farm for shopping and eating at various locations. This has brought more business back to the park and put employees at ease as our employer is making some effort to keep jobs at Knotts. But, in an industry where Disney has set the precedent, many theme park employees are concerned to hear of the layoffs the company has just announced.
“In Light of the impact of COVID-19 on our business, including limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements and the continued uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic -exacerbated in California by the state’s unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen- we have made the very difficult decision to begin the process of reducing our workforce at our parks,” Disney announced to the public through social media.
“Approximately 28,000 domestic employees will be affected.”
It is disheartening as a theme park employee to see Disney firing employees in an attempt to save money; the announcement has created a greater amount of anxiety not only for Disney employees but for all theme park employees.
There is a large amount of uncertainty when it comes to which businesses can operate safely during a pandemic. Before the shut down, guests had been voicing their concerns about the park’s operations, saying that they felt it was unsafe for the park to be open. Now with new social distancing guidelines in place and extra safety precautions, some members of the public feel these safety measures are too much of a burden. While theme parks’ employees do want parks to reopen, we still want there to be a level of safety in our workplace. This means adequate training and more precautions than anyone is used to. Safety for everyone is going to be reliant on the public’s willingness to respect workers and rules set by the parks.
Whether or not theme parks can reopen safely all depends on the ability of the guests to follow the social distancing guidelines that the park has put in place. If the public can stay on the other side of the Plexiglas shields that surround our work stations, stay six feet apart from one another and keep their masks on, then opening should not be a problem.
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