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After a 2-month battle, these actors can return to Disney World

Inside the struggle between Disney World and the Actors’ Equity Association

This image released by Disney shows fireworks punctuating the sky at the grand opening celebration at the Cinderella Castle for the New Fantasyland attraction at the Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom theme park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Thursday,
This image released by Disney shows fireworks punctuating the sky at the grand opening celebration of the Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom theme park. On Wednesday, Disney World reached an agreement with the Actors’ Equity Association.
Gene Duncan, Associated Press

Note: This story has been updated with a statement from Disney

Following a two-month battle over how to safely bring performers back to work, Walt Disney World and the Actors’ Equity Association have reached an agreement.

Disney World notified the labor union — which represents 750 performers at the theme park and more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers nationwide — that it is providing a testing site that will offer free COVID-19 testing for Florida residents, including Disney World employees and their immediate family members, according to Deadline.

Actors’ Equity Association, which for two months has been pushing for regular testing and other safety measures, then signed an agreement with the resort to allow its members to return to work at the theme park.

“We have been consistent that testing is an important part of ensuring a safe workplace for Equity performers, and today, I’m pleased to see that Disney World has agreed,” Kate Shindle, Actors’ Equity Association president, said in a press release sent to the Deseret News on Wednesday. “With the news that Disney will make testing available for Equity performers and others in the park, I’m happy to announce that Equity’s executive committee has signed a memorandum of understanding with Disney for Equity performers to return.”

But a spokesperson for Disney told the Deseret News Wednesday evening that the new testing site was not established to specifically meet the union’s demands.

“We have offered the location to help with community testing, and any suggestion that this has been done as a result of any one union is unfounded, “ the spokesperson said. “The Florida Division of Emergency Management will operate the location, which is available to cast members and their immediate families as well as Florida residents. Our actions support all cast and our community at large.”

The test is a self-administered nasal swab that is supervised by trained medical personnel, and results are expected to be delivered within 3-5 business days, Deadline reported.

The conflict began June 23, when Disney announced plans to bring back actors for rehearsals the following week — the theme park reopened in July after four months of being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Deseret News.

Disney reached agreements with multiple unions, but the Actors’ Equity Association requested on June 25 that the park’s safety protocols be enhanced and their Disney performers be regularly tested for COVID-19. The following day, Disney rescinded its back-to-work notices for Equity members.

Disney World then went on to revamp some of its productions, replacing Equity actors with non-equity Disney employees, and finding ways to put on productions without actors, the Deseret News reported.

“Did Walt Disney World also buy the FastPass for union busting when it reopened the parks?” Brandon Lorenz, Communications Director at Actors’ Equity, previously said in a statement to Deadline. “It is deeply disappointing that Disney has locked performers out, after Walt Disney World refused to allow masks and testing for performers, a lower safety standard than so many other park workers.”

Dates have not yet been announced for the return of actor-staffed productions.

On Wednesday, the Actors’ Equity Association also approved safety plans for the Broadway production “Diana: A True Musical Story.” The musical was in previews when Broadway shut down on March 12, according to a news release.

Although Broadway remains shut down until at least Jan. 3, 2021, the production team for “Diana: a True Musical Story” plans to rehearse, record a cast album and mount a performance that will go straight to Netflix, the Deseret News reported.