In an unprecedented move, Walt Disney Co. is requiring much of its U.S. workforce to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Its new policy eventually could be extended to cover tens of thousands of union workers at Disney's theme parks, including in Anaheim and Orlando.
The sweeping decision, announced Friday, comes amid a rise in cases caused by the Delta variant, which has prompted public health officials to issue new warnings and leaders of major corporations to reevaluate their pandemic workplace rules.
"At the Walt Disney Co., the safety and well-being of our employees during the pandemic has been and continues to be a top priority," the company said in a statement introducing its mandate that "all salaried and nonunion hourly employees in the U.S. working at any of our sites be fully vaccinated."
The Burbank entertainment giant said it has begun negotiations with union officials representing its bargaining unit employees. The company's goal is to extend the vaccination policy to cover those employees, which include many of its theme park workers and some members of movie and television production crews.
The more stringent policy is "based on the latest recommendations of scientists, health officials and our own medical professionals that the COVID-19 vaccine provides the best protection against severe infection," Disney said in the statement.
Disney employs more than 200,000 workers worldwide.
The move comes after other major companies, including Google, Facebook, Netflix and Morgan Stanley, issued vaccine mandates for employees. President Biden this week announced that 2 million people who work for the federal government would need to get vaccinated or they would have to wear masks and get tested regularly for the virus.
Los Angeles instituted a similar policy, requiring city employees to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or undergo weekly swabs to demonstrate they have tested negative for the coronavirus.
Earlier this week, Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and other theme parks said they would require guests to wear masks in all indoor settings, regardless of vaccination status.
Disney is looking to avoid a repeat of last year when the company's operations were hammered due to coronavirus-related closures. In March 2020, the company was forced to shut down its signature theme parks and suspend TV and movie production. Its ESPN empire struggled with the lack of live sporting events to televise and chat about.
The state refused to let Disneyland, California Adventure and other companies' theme parks reopen until late April — after they had been shuttered for an unprecedented 13 months.
Vaccinations also will be required for all new Disney employees.
"Employees who aren’t already vaccinated and are working on-site will have 60 days from today to complete their protocols and any employees still working from home will need to provide verification of vaccination prior to their return, with certain limited exceptions," Disney said in the statement. "Vaccines are the best tool we all have to help control this global pandemic and protect our employees."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.