Brookfield Zoo Furloughs A Third Of Its Staff Due To COVID-19

Rob Hart
April 06, 2020 - 11:05 am

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Brookfield Zoo furloughed a third of its staff on Saturday, citing “unanticipated and urgent financial pressures” in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Brookfield Zoo has been closed since March 19 and has practically no earned revenue stream available at this time. 

"This week, it really got to the point where we needed to reduce our expenses dramatically," Chicago Zoological Society President and CEO Stuart Strahl said.

Strahl said they had to resort to drastic measures to save money. He said the furlough will last through the end of the crisis.

"The state of emergency within Illinois and also nationally will dictate that as the COVID-19 virus gradually subsides," he said.

The remaining employees are considered critically essential to support minimum operations at the zoo, including employees who take care of the animals, along with those who are responsible for maintenance and security of the zoo's buildings and grounds.

The temporary workforce reductions affected staff in every department, the zoo said in a statement.

During the lay-off period, staff is on no-pay, no-duty status, and eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. In addition, furloughed/laid-off staff will continue to receive medical and other benefits for a period of time, the zoo said in a statement.

A return date is not known, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"This is a very challenging and difficult situation, and the Society hopes it will be resolved soon. However, CZS had to respond quickly to the tremendous, unanticipated financial pressures it is facing in order to ensure the zoo’s future sustainability," the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) said in a statement.

"In an attempt to assist with the Society’s financial situation, it has applied for loans through the new stimulus bill. In addition, the Society’s Board of Trustees and Women’s Board has transitioned to a virtual format for its largest fund-raising event of the year—The Whirl. Brookfield Zoo welcomes donations from the public, zoo members, and donors through its website to assist with the situation. Information on how to donate may be found at CZS.org/donate.

"Brookfield Zoo is also asking current zoo members to renew now and those considering a membership to also do so in order to help alleviate some of the financial pressures. As a thank you, the zoo is extending the duration of current memberships to offset the temporary closure.

"CZS has a preparedness team that has been meeting daily and planning for some time in anticipation of the pandemic extending a number of months. As new information is disseminated and the situation changes, the team remains responsive to the information being communicated by state and federal government agencies and other trustworthy sources. Staff will continue to assess the COVID-19 situation and its effects and continues to plan daily for the future and the eventual emergence from the pandemic and reopening of Brookfield Zoo," the statement concludes.

Assistant Producer Margaret Larkin contributed to this report.