It’s an ongoing debate for central Florida theme park fans – which is better, Universal Orlando Resort or the Walt Disney World Resort?
One has the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the other has Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. One has more big thrills and 3D rides, the other has pixie dust and magic.
But with recent budget cuts and Cast Member pay negotiations causing upset in the Disney unions, it seems Universal is jumping at becoming the employer of choice in Orlando.
Universal Orlando Resort– home to Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Universal’s Volcano Bay, and Universal CityWalk– has recently begun work on its third theme park, Epic Universe, which will open in 2025. On top of this, Universal Studios Hollywood is opening Super Nintendo World this week, while Universal Parks & Resorts just announced two new theme parks, one in Frisco, Texas, and the other in Las Vegas, which is expected to be a Halloween Horror Nights experience year-round.
Alongside new attractions like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Universal is really upping its game in the theme park world.
And with recent Cast Member wage disputes and upcoming layoffs causing upset at Walt Disney World, Universal Studios has made a bold statement at a crucial time.
Universal has announced that it will be hiring more than 2,000 new jobs ready for its upcoming Epic Universe theme park, while also raising the minimum wage for its workforce to $17.00 per hour. These announcements come at the same time that Disney CEO Bob Iger announced 7,000 layoffs, with Cast Members still not wise as to which areas of the Walt Disney Company are affected.
Furthermore, this week saw negotiations between Disney and the Services Trades Council Union (STCU), which represents thousands of Disney World Cast Members, take a further negative turn. The resumed negotiations come following the expiration of Disney’s contract with its union-represented Cast Members in October 2022.
According to the STCU, Disney refused to add “even one cent to its wage proposal,” just as Universal Orlando Resort plans to raise its starting minimum wage by $2 to $17 an hour. This now puts Universal as the wage leader among the big theme parks in central Florida
Moreover, Disney’s proposal actually reduced retroactive pay for thousands of Cast Member workers, making the proposal “even worse than the offer already rejected.”
The contract talks with service worker unions are pushing to increase the starting hourly wage for a Disney employee at Walt Disney World from $15 to $18, to help employees face cost-of-living hikes in housing and other expenses in central Florida. The Walt Disney Company and unions plan to return to the negotiating table.
The STCU released a statement on social media that revealed Disney’s refusal to agree to raise Cast Member pay, writing:
“Today, the six unions of the Service Trades Council [STCU] met with Disney for the first time since 13,650 Cast Members voted to reject Disney’s contract proposal on February 2 and 3.
Despite the overwhelming message sent by Cast Members, Disney refused to add even one cent to its wage proposal.
Moreover, Disney’s proposal today reduced retroactive pay for thousands of workers, making today’s proposal even worse than the offer already rejected.”
In its statement, the STCU also alleges that Disney’s newest proposal also reduces retroactive pay that would have come to thousands of Cast Members in Central Florida–a move that the STCU says makes Disney’s most recent proposal “even worse than the offer already rejected.”
Statement from STCU about Disney negotiations:#DisneyWorkersNeedARaise #DisneyDoBetter pic.twitter.com/1E53G2j3vV
— UNITE HERE Local 737 (@UniteHere737) February 16, 2023
In contrast, Universal Orlando Resort’s new wage structure, which includes raising pay for other workers based on the new rates and their time with the company, goes into effect in June. Universal Resort’s workers aren’t unionized.
In a letter to the Orlando Resort’s 25,000 workers, Universal Orlando Resort President and Chief Operating Officer Karen Irwin said,
“To that end, effective June 4, 2023, we are not only increasing our starting base rate to $17 per hour, but we are increasing many of our starting rates across the business. In addition, many Team Members will receive an increase based on the new rates and their time with the company. More details about how this individually impacts Team Members will be shared in the coming weeks.”
Disney World service workers who are in the six unions that make up the STCU had been demanding a starting minimum wage jump to at least $18 an hour in the first year of the contract, up from the starting minimum wage of $15 an hour won in the previous contract.
The rejected proposal would have raised the starting minimum wage to $20 an hour for all service Disney workers by the last year of the five-year contract, an increase of $1 each year for a majority of the Cast Members it covered. Certain positions, like housekeepers, bus drivers, and culinary jobs, would start immediately at a minimum of $20.
It all seems rather timely, then, that Universal Orlando is both increasing its hourly pay rate and seeking to hire over 2,000 more Universal Park team members. A Universal Orlando Resort spokesperson told reporter Scott Gustin:
“Wage is just one element of our continued focus on building an even better Universal Orlando work experience. We aspire to be the employer of choice in this market– providing an inclusive environment where Team Members are proud to work, have an opportunity to grow and feel a real sense of purpose and belonging.”
Are they trying to poach those 7,000 Cast Members facing layoffs? Is Universal aiming to take Cast Members from Disney with higher pay? The fact that Universal wants to “aspire to be the employer of choice” in the theme park market clearly shows that the competition is heating up between these two central Florida theme park giants.
Only time will tell what happens in the Florida theme park worker battle between Universal and Walt Disney World.