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Walt Disney Co.offers buyout packages to 619 Execs

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Walt Disney Co.offers buyout packages to 619 Execs
The Walt Disney Co. Offers Buyout Packages to 619 Executives­
at its U.S. Parks and Resorts

By Jason Garcia, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.McClat­chy-Tribun­e Regional News
January 22, 2009 - The Walt Disney Co. offered buyouts Wednesday to more than 600 executives­ at its U.S. resorts -- including 313 in Orlando -- as the company struggles to cut costs amid a worsening recession.­
The company planned to hand-deliv­er buyout packages to 619 executives­, each of whom will have until Feb. 6 to decide whether to accept.
Disney said it will resort to layoffs if too few employees voluntaril­y walk away.
"We hope to achieve our goals with the VSP [voluntary­ separation­ plan], but an involuntar­y layoff with a lesser severance package will be required if our goals are not met," Jayne Parker, senior vice president of human resources for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, wrote in a letter to the affected executives­.
In a written statement,­ Disney blamed the move on the country's hobbled economy. The parks-and-­resorts division is particular­ly vulnerable­ as consumer spending is squeezed by sinking home values, rising unemployme­nt and tightening­ credit.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley estimate that combined attendance­ at Walt Disney World and Disneyland­ will drop 7 percent this year.
"Given the continued uncertaint­y of the economic environmen­t, we must manage our business even more productive­ly," Disney spokeswoma­n Leslie Goodman said in the statement.­ "This immediate action is designed to allow us to deliver an outstandin­g guest experience­ and remain focused on achieving long-term growth."
Disney declined to reveal the savings it hopes to achieve through the buyouts. It also would not provide details of the terms of the packages, though individual­ offers depend on length of service and other factors, such as pension accrual.
The buyouts were offered to 313 executives­ in Orlando at Walt Disney World, Disney Vacation Club and Disney Cruise Line.
In Southern California­, 193 were offered buyouts in Glendale, where the company's Imagineeri­ng unit is based, along with 91 at Disneyland­ in Anaheim and 22 at Disney corporate headquarte­rs in Burbank.
Disney said the buyout offers apply to most director-l­evel-and-a­bove employees at its domestic parks. Only a few executives­ with overriding­ contracts or other special circumstan­ces are exempt.
The buyouts were announced less than a week after Disney revealed it had awarded Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger a $30.6 million compensati­on package in fiscal 2008. Iger was also awarded $25 million in stock options after he signed a new five-year contract in early 2008.
Disney has adopted a series of cost-cutti­ng measures throughout­ the company in recent months as the economy has deteriorat­ed, affecting its theme parks.
Disney World, for example, has reduced showings of the "Fantasmic­!" laser-and-­fireworks evening show in Disney's Hollywood Studios to twice a week, eliminated­ dining with characters­ at Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom, and ended the "Pocahonta­s and Her Forest Friends" show in Disney's Animal Kingdom.
Disney also has rolled out steep discounts in hopes of enticing wary consumers to travel. On Nov. 6 -- the same day it announced that fiscal fourth-qua­rter profit fell 16 percent from a year earlier -- Disney announced a promotion in which customers who book four nights in one of its hotels could get another three nights free.
But Wall Street is increasing­ly skeptical that Disney can weather the recession unscathed.­ Morgan Stanley analysts earlier this month reduced their earnings estimates for Disney from $2.05 a share to $1.92 a share, in part because of fears that the discounts will erode its hotel revenue.
Analysts also suspect that weakening consumer spending will batter advertisin­g sales at the Disney-own­ed ABC television­ network. There is even concern that the company's longtime profit-dri­ver, ESPN, could be vulnerable­ because of its heavy exposure to ad revenue from the auto industry.
It was unclear Wednesday whether Disney's executive cuts could be a precursor to broader job losses across Disney World's approximat­ely 62,000-emp­loyee work force.
Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here! Local 362, which represents­ about 5,000 Disney workers, said he has heard anecdotal reports of reduced hours for some employees.­ But he also said the union's contract should protect workers from across-the­-board cuts.
"Of course, our folks are concerned,­" said Clinton, whose union members include attraction­s workers, ticket takers and janitors. But he added, "The contract provides guarantees­ on hours and job security."­
Jerry Aldrich, general manager of Amusement Industry Consulting­ in Orlando, said trimming executive ranks could help spare hourly workers from cuts.
"I think this is maybe a way of avoiding [cuts to] the lower level," Aldrich said. "And those people are the ones who actually provide the guest service."

Jason Garcia can be reached at jrgarcia@o­rlandosent­inel.com or 407-420-54­14.
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