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The NBA Can’t Subject Cast Members to a ‘Bubble,’ but Disney is Still the Only Option

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Our own Preston Ellis, a Disney employee, shares his thoughts on the NBA’s potential “bubble” and its impact on Disney cast members

NBA says it is talking with Disney about resuming season in Florida Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

As Florida continues to register highs in reported COVID-19 cases at unprecedented levels, NBA officials and players have begun to call into question the validity of the NBA’s plan to occupy what is arguably the epicenter of the pandemic.

The NBA sold players on the concept of a “bubble,” an infrastructure that would prevent the virus from going in or out without being processed through proper channels.

The NBA then released its schedule and announced its partnership before any such plan was properly revealed or agreed upon, the old ‘cart before the horse’ adage.

Zach Lowe and Baxter Holmes reported that a recent phone call (Jun 20) with high-level officials left commissioner Adam Silver, ”Resolute but somber.”

The most pressing concern hasn’t been with the state of Florida itself but with the interactions players, families and officials will share with Disney cast members.

Cast members have yet to be subjected to the same restrictions as NBA employees, restrictions such as weekly testing, frequent temperature checks, even being quarantined on the ‘Disney Campus.’

This has been called into question recently by NBA athletes and media alike.

“If the cases keep spiking in Florida, things are going to happen,” one GM told The Athletic on Monday. “I’m really, really concerned for the league big-picture wise in many, many ways.”

Many people don’t understand this inability to restrict employees that same way they can the players, so I’d like to elaborate.

Labor Unions

“NBPA executive director Michele Roberts recently mentioned it remains to be seen what restrictions — if any — might be possible given that many Disney employees are unionized,” as reported by Lowe and Holmes.

Disney’s largest labor union (Service Trade Council Union) represents nearly 43,000 of Disney’s labor force and has been in contact with Disney officials throughout this pandemic on behalf of their cast members.

Following the shutdown in mid-March, the Service Trade Council secured continued health insurance (provided by Disney) in addition to eligibility and pension contributions among other benefits.

The Service Trade Council is only one of several unions that continue conversations with the Orlando based parks and their properties.

For the NBA to instigate a proper ‘quarantine’ of Disney cast members on-site in properties like ESPN, Yacht Club, Gran Destino and Grand Floridian, they’d face a myriad of issues.

Testing

NBA players, families and officials will be subjected to frequent testing. Logic would insinuate cast members should receive the same treatment to truly encapsulate the bubble, right?

Only the logistics of testing one populous of Disney employee without all the others is problematic. Why would Disney choose some employees as worthy of testing but not others? After all, ride operators on Tower of Terror receive just as much guest interaction on a daily basis as a service employee at Ale and Compass, arguably more so.

What about service staff at Sanaa and Jiko at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge? Why isn’t their service worthy of testing while those at 1900 Park Fare (Grand Floridian) is?

I work for Walt Disney and engage with hundreds of guests on a daily basis. Is the safety of those serving NBA players more important than mine?

Disney has not yet agreed to test all of their employees on a weekly basis as the NBA has. In order for the NBA to even suggest testing, they’d need to test tens of thousands of others weekly, an expense they may not be willing to meet. Even then, how can Disney sell testing to employees in Orlando without then doing so at Disneyland in California?

See the scale of what makes this proposition problematic?

Quarantining

In addition to testing, staff would need to be subjected to a 7-10 day quarantine before entering the bubble, just as the players have been. They’d then remain on campus through October 12th, the designated end date for the NBA tournament and its’ occupancy in Orlando.

Disney would need to negotiate with its labor unions and then provide stay for the designated staff, sequestering them away from their families and homes for an extended period of time.

Only, how can the NBA and Disney ask low-to-minimum wage workers to separate themselves from their lives while NBA players parade their own respective families throughout the hotels and restaurants? Seems a double standard, does it not?

One selling point to such a sacrifice could be the necessity of finding work for many Orlando-based employees. After several months of unemployment, finding work is critical to an injection into the local economy and those in which it serves.

However, taking advantage of such a populous and subjecting them to different stipulations than NBA players isn’t the answer. For one, why would a cast member prefer to be quarantined for three months at one of said hotels when those working at Contemporary and Polynesian can come and go as they please?

In addition, many full-time employees are being recalled as it is as Disney prepares to open all four major theme parks next month.

The NBA and Disney could pitch a temporary increased stipend but how do you sell the labor union on incentivizing their employees more at one given time than another. Why is servicing NBA players more valuable than serving every other guest that drives through the Disney property line?

The idea of a ‘volunteer’ has been pitched, but again is problematic. Number one, you’d have to hope enough employees who service and are familiar with these said locations would be willing to subject themselves to it without the incentive of increased pay or access to the NBA players or their games. If Disney and the NBA tested these employees, they could pitch allowing them to attend but therein again, you face the problem of testing the other tens of thousands of employees to make good on that compromise.

Also, would the NBA be comfortable being serviced by hundreds of potential ‘superfans?’ If anyone is willing to volunteer for these conditions, it’s likely to be someone with some kind of interest in the NBA and its’ players.

What Disney Can Provide

Despite these concerns and the overwhelming reported cases in the state of Florida, Disney is inarguably the best location to host this event.

Last Friday I spoke with Toronto Blue Jays medical director, Dr. Glenn Copeland. Copeland advises 20 teams throughout the four major American sports and lauded Adam Silver’s plan and was quick to explain why this bubble will work.

“The place that concerns me is if we can’t prevent the spread. If that happens, our calculations have been off. But seeing what I’ve seen in the Taiwan baseball league, the South Korean baseball league and the German Premier league, they’ve been able to do this and I know the NBA will be able to make this happen.”

Disney is one of the leading service providers in hospitality in the world and for good reason. With 12 parks across the world and 25 hotels in Orlando alone, Disney has faced and overcome every adversity and continued to grow its product over nearly 50 years since its’ opening in 1971.

Disney also has an existing partnership with the NBA, a trusted leader in Bob Iger and the perfect facilities at ESPN Wide World of Sports to create the necessary environment for players.

Certain Disney staff won’t be required to reside inside the NBA campus but will be screened via symptoms and temperature checks. If they exhibit symptoms, staff will not be allowed to work. They are required to wear face coverings at all times and stay away from players as much as possible.

In addition, the NBA will provide technology such as Covid-detecting rings which may further safeguard those who choose to employ them.

The Real Concern

The chief concern shouldn’t be the staff but the players and their families. The NBA has said players will be allowed to break the bubble with the only penalty being a 7-10 day quarantine to follow.

“Do I 100 percent believe that people aren’t going to leave?” Rutgers School of Public Health’s Perry Halkitis told Marc Stein. “I mean, these are adults, right? Human behavior is really hard to control.”

“Yeah, a player is going to test positive and guess what? He’s going to isolate, he’s going to quarantine and he’s going to come back,” Copeland told me. “We’re going to take every precaution necessary, but we have to live with Covid for the time being.”

Some players such as Trevor Ariza, Davis Bertans and Avery Bradley have elected to stay behind and that is their right and should be commended in many ways. There is significant risk for all involved and in many cases, those risks outweigh the potential rewards of playing.

The NBA and Disney may not admit it publicly but they are fully expecting many to test positive as life resumes. The long term effects of that could be damning but as Dr. Copeland suggests they are going to follow the routine of diagnosing, caring medically and returning employees to work as quickly and safely as possible.

“22 percent of people with the virus could end up with heart issues according to the Journal of Medical Association. The virus can actually effect the heart. We are now finding that there could be longer term effects even though you’ve recovered from the initial effect of the virus. The long term effects are there.”

If the NBA wanted a true bubble, they should have kept to 16 playoff-teams and left family members at home. They created a tremendous amount of risk spread out to 22-teams, elongating the resumed season and agreeing to allow family members to join after the first round of NBA playoffs when eight teams will still remain.

“Life is going to move forward. It’s a return to safe life that the NBA is going to show us can be done. We know there will be drawbacks,” Copeland continued.

Still, under the guidlines the NBA has agreed upon this is the best possible plan and one the NBA and the world has to hope can work.