NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gaylord Entertainment announced plans Wednesday to release more than 1,700 employees at its Opryland Resort in the wake of historic flooding that hit the Nashville area last month.
Since May 3, Gaylord has been providing its Opryland employees with full pay and benefits.
However, as a result of the timeline associated with the reopening of the resort, the company will release 1,743 employees, effective next Saturday, June 12.
In a press release posted on BusinessWire.com and sent to News 2, Gaylord said it will continue to make healthcare benefits available at the same cost to employees through September.
Additionally, the company said it will provide affected employees with two weeks of pay, plus payment for any unused vacation days.
"We are deeply sorry to have to make this incredibly difficult decision, as our employees are and have always been the driving force behind the success of our business," Colin V. Reed, chairman and chief executive officer of Gaylord Entertainment, said in the release.
He continued, "We are grateful for everything our employees have done to make Gaylord Opryland a wonderful place to work and visit, and thank them for the courage and commitment they have shown over the last month."
Kevin Clay was among the employees who learned of the layoffs Wednesday morning.
The bus and shuttle driver was hired to work at the Opryland Hotel in April, just days before the flood.
He told News 2 Gaylord General Manager Peter Weien broke the news to employees in a special meeting called at Two Rivers Baptist Church.
"As we walked into the auditorium they were splitting us off, certain people were going to the chapel, certain people were going to the auditorium," Clay recalled. "We started to put two and two together."
Clay said he worked more than 24 hours straight during the flood, transporting hotel guests to other hotels, shelters and even the airport.
He told News 2 he stood by the company during the flood and now feels betrayed.
"They sideswiped us bad here," he said. "I mean you had to figure it was coming but don't lead us to a point and throw us off a cliff."
Despite the day's frustration, Clay said he'd go back to Opryland when they reopen if given the opportunity, adding, "I would love to go back to work for them."
Gaylord officials estimate remediation and rebuilding costs from the flood will range from $215 million to $225 million, including as much as $172 million for the hotel and $17 million for the Grand Ole Opry House.
The company said they plan to reopen the Grand Ole Opry House on October 1 and the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center on November 15.
"[Wednesday's] news about job losses is of course awful for the individuals, the city of Nashville and the state of Tennessee, but the silver lining is, if there is one, is that we will reopen a hotel in just over six months time as such jobs will be available, and we hope our [employees] will rejoin our company," Reed said in a conference call Wednesday afternoon.
In the meantime, Gaylord Opryland said it will continue to employ 919 employees, primarily in the areas of reservations, accounting, sales, IT, engineering, horticulture and security.
Possible legal action
Also during Wednesday's conference call, Gaylord's CEO touched on what he hinted in the days after the flooding.
Colin Reed said the company is considering legal action.
"We now know the accuracy of communication between certain government agencies proved unreliable," he said. "It would seem the predictions did not reflect the extraordinary volume of water released into the Cumberland River on Sunday afternoon that contributed to this historic flooding."
Opportunities for laid-off employees
Employees who learned they would loss their jobs Wednesday are urged to turn to other hotels in the Nashville area.
The Hutton Hotel on West End Avenue has already hired a few former Gaylord workers with the understanding they can return to Opryland when the resort and convention center reopens.
"These people have to work and they need jobs and we need help so it's hopefully going to be a good fit for awhile and we'll take as many people from there as we can," said Hutton Hotel General Manager Steven Andre.