Employees in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks learned Thursday that they have to be out of park housing by the end of the month as coronavirus continues to spread.
Among those evicted is Leah Hennessy, who started working at Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia on March 17. Her new High Sierra job ended the next day when the park decided to close its concessions because of the growing threat of COVID-19.
“I spoke to a member of HR on March 16th, and they made no mention of COVID-19 or shutting down, instead encouraging me to arrive,” she said.
The 25-year-old came to California after working at a ski resort in Washington, and is now trying to decide whether to live in a campground or make a 2,500-mile-plus drive to her mother’s home in Florida.
“I am pretty nervous right now for a few reasons. … I don’t think I have enough money to get to Florida safely,” Hennessy said, “so I will probably end up having to borrow money and defer some bills.”
Her eviction was announced during an employee meeting, where she was handed a letter from management of the parks’ concessionaire, Delaware North.
The letter begins: “This is certainly a very challenging and unprecedented time. Delaware North has navigated many challenges in the past.”
Among those challenges: A legal battle with the National Park Service that thrust Delaware North into the national spotlight over its claim of owning the names of Yosemite National Park properties after the company lost its Yosemite concessionaire contract in 2016.
That dispute ended with a civil settlement last summer, in which the New York-based company received about $12 million collectively from the park service and Yosemite’s new concessionaire, Philadelphia-based Aramark, for handing over Yosemite intellectual property rights.
“Out of an abundance of caution for everyone’s safety,” the Delaware North letter to Sequoia employees continues, “supply lines being very limited, and the fact that there are no medical facilities nearby, we need everyone to find alternative housing options and vacate by March 30, 2020.”
The letter culminates with information about another employee meeting planned for Friday to “get a better idea of your circumstances” for those who “may not have alternatives.”
It was given to Hennessy a day after Delaware North reported laying off two-thirds of its full-time employees across more than 200 locations as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
The eviction letter is from the general manager of the company’s operations in Sequoia and Kings Canyon.
Glen White, director of corporate communications for Delaware North, said Friday that about 40 employees in Sequoia and Kings Canyon were asked to leave their housing. He said they are being provided with transportation and temporary housing outside the parks, if needed.
He said employees were asked to leave “due to location and proximity to medical care.” With the closing of the parks, White said many full-time Delaware North employees there were put “on temporary leave with one week of pay and eight weeks of benefits, and we are not scheduling part-time employees to work.”
Sintia Kawasaki-Yee, spokesperson for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said Park Service employees there are not being asked to leave their housing.
There have also been evictions in nearby Yosemite National Park to the north, but so far just related to incidents alleging noncompliance with housing rules.
In one case, an Aramark employee with pneumonia was told to leave Yosemite Valley housing after receiving a negative test result for COVID-19. The employee was allegedly threatened with arrest by Aramark if she didn’t leave within a few hours of receiving an eviction notice. Without a car or place to go, she was still in Yosemite on Thursday night. A handful of others were evicted for visiting with her outside of her cabin while she was under a precautionary quarantine.
David Freireich, an Aramark spokesman, addressed recent Yosemite evictions (there have been others) in a statement. He didn’t say whether he was talking about this case or others when he wrote: “During this public health crisis, blatant disregard for these rules, reckless behavior and unlawful conduct cannot be overlooked or tolerated. For their own health, and the safety of others in the community, failure to comply could lead to disciplinary action, including being asked to leave the park.”
In Sequoia, however, the evictions aren’t tied to conduct.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom urging evictions to cease as coronavirus spreads — along with many local governments putting a stop to them throughout the state — haven’t spared Hennessy and others now at the mercy of companies operating on federal lands.
(c)2020 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)
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