Dallas events business Freeman extends furloughs for hundreds in coronavirus-decimated convention industry

The Dallas-based convention and events company Freeman is extending furloughs for hundreds of workers in Texas, California and Florida as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to scare people away from large gatherings.

Freeman, which runs conventions and related services all over the world, filed temporary layoff notices for 246 workers in the Dallas area and 50 in the San Antonio area after their original six-month furlough notice expired, the Texas Workforce Commission disclosed Thursday.

TWC made the layoff notices public the same day the federal government reported 870,000 new unemployment claims from last week, swelling the ranks of the jobless to more than 13.5 million as the pandemic continues to disrupt many aspects of commerce and daily life.

In recent days, Freeman has also sent notices affecting 138 workers in Orlando and 18 each in Anaheim, Calif., and San Francisco.

“We had expected to return furloughed employees to work within six months of their initial furlough,” Freeman wrote in its letter to TWC. “However, due to further unforeseen business circumstances, we now expect the furlough to extend beyond six months.”

Freeman said in its letter that it had continued to provide health insurance to furloughed employees.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Freeman had already announced a round of cutbacks in June, including “organizational changes” and consolidations of facilities in places such as Southern California, the Northeast and Nevada.

The convention and event business has been among those hardest hit by the pandemic, even more than hotels and restaurants, said Heywood Sanders, a University of Texas at San Antonio professor who studies the convention and hospitality business.

“It’s going to be a very hard, long slog until there is a recovery,” he said.

By some estimates, Sanders said, the convention and meeting space business isn’t expected to fully recover for four to five years. In fact, he said, the convention business never fully recovered after the 2008 recession.

The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas has only two events scheduled through the end of this year. Ryman Hospitality Properties, which owns the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine and four other Gaylord resorts, estimates it lost $791 million from group cancellations through Sept. 1. It told investors that its sales teams were able to rebook $360 million of that business, or 46%, for future dates.

Large convention center hotels, such as Renaissance- and Hilton-branded facilities, are filling to only about 25% of capacity, Sanders said.

“In March, we had the sense that we would shut down for four weeks and then get back to normal,” he said. “Now we are seeing that convention demand is going to be the piece that takes the longest to see the recovery.”

TWC also received layoff notices for five P.F. Chang’s restaurants in Texas, including ones in The Colony and Allen. Those cutbacks include 75 workers at each restaurant.

Scottsdale, Ariz.-based P.F. Chang’s characterized the cutbacks as reductions in hours implemented at the beginning of the pandemic. It had to file new notices with the state because the reductions ran past six months.

“The reduction of work hours at this location are the unfortunate result of sudden, unexpected COVID-19-related circumstances that were conditions outside of the company’s control and for which the continued duration is still unknown,” said the letter from P.F. Chang’s human resources business partner Kim Murdock. “The reduction of hours lasting beyond six months was not reasonably foreseeable until now.”

P.F. Chang’s issued similar letters in states including Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, according to various media reports.

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