It’s no secret that Orlando, Florida has a competitive market when it comes to the tourism industry. After all, within an 80-mile radius, you can find SeaWorld, LEGOLAND, Busch Gardens, Universal, Walt Disney World, and countless other lesser-known activities and amusement parks.
While this smorgasboard of choice is ideal for traveling families and adrenaline junkies, it also means that, for locals, entertainment and the cost of living can get pretty pricey.
Universal makes its move
In order to remain competitive and keep its team members motivated, Universal Orlando Resort recently took a long, hard look at its pay scale and found that it needed to make a change. So, beginning April 2015, Universal Orlando increased its base pay from $9.00 to $9.50 per hour. The resort also announced, at the time, a year-long plan to eventually raise base pay up to $10.00 an hour; a change that took effect on June 1, 2016. And the news wasn’t just good for those who are working entry-level positions, either. The announcement included the goal for Universal to incrementally increase pay for their other positions as well.
These statements came on the heels of a personnel scandal for Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando’s largest competitor. In October 2014, rumors and reports began to come out claiming that Disney had pushed aside its loyal cast members in favor of cheaper outsourced labor from southern Asia. Cast members from IT and Team Disney were informed that they must train their replacements for the jobs they once had or face leaving without severance. Support for Disney was dwindling and Universal seized the opportunity to draw talent from Disney’s large pool of high-performing employees.
Of course, there will always be those who want to work for the mouse, however, even the slightest pay increase could entice workers to jump ship. In 2015, Disney and SeaWorld both upped the pay of their bottom tier workers to a minimum of $9 an hour. Prior to this, Disney’s College Program students and interns had been known to make as low as $7.92 an hour. Clearly, Universal Orlando’s decision has already made an impact on other attractions in Orlando.
Some may think that a near $2 raise does not warrant much attention, however, it is a huge win for those working tourism and hospitality positions in Orlando. Property near Orlando is scarce and very expensive. In just the last year, the average sales price has risen by over 10%. These costs incurred by developers and landlords are then passed onto tenants. As of mid-2016, an apartment in Orlando ran residents an average of $1,500 a month. Most tourism and hospitality workers scarcely make enough to live on and have to have multiple roommates in order to ease the burden of rent and utilities. On top of this, many work 50+ hours in a week and are expected to bring their A-game every single day in order to make each and every guest feel like royalty.
With such high expectations, the low pay of these positions has been under scrutiny for years. Unions have been formed, petitions signed, boycotts created, and even protests called, all over the issue of underpay. Universal's move to increase wages could been seen as a proactive humanitarian gesture to satisfy the needs of workers in the area. And who wouldn't want to work for a company who cares?
Should their plan work, Universal would be luring in the best and brightest from all surrounding parks - without having to train them. As a "At-Will" employmen state, Florida gives employees the freedom to leave a position as they see fit. Looking at the cost-to-benefit ratio, Disney and other parks had to decide if continuing current pay rates was worth the risk of losing newly-trained and loyal veteran employees. In the end, the threat of fleeing human resources and negative public relations was great enough to warrant a pay increase.