Universal ups starting pay to $17 an hour as Disney wage talks go on – Orlando Sentinel

Universal Orlando is raising its minimum wage from $15 to $17 an hour starting June 4, boosting the theme park company’s base pay to $2 more than Walt Disney World’s current rate.

Universal Orlando President and COO Karen Irwin announced the change in a letter posted to the resort’s employee website Tuesday.

Along with the base pay bump, Universal is increasing starting wages for specific undisclosed roles and giving employees raises based on the new rates and how long they have worked there, Irwin wrote. She said additional details are forthcoming.

The letter said Universal has also improved many of its benefits, including its 401(k) match, tuition reimbursement programs and compassion and parental leave. The company is also upgrading employee-only areas such as break rooms and restrooms across the resort.

“We deeply believe in our mission to provide an inclusive environment where our Team Members are proud to work and we remain committed to that focus,” Irwin wrote to employees. “Therefore, we continually evaluate our compensation, perks, and benefits programs and why we are committed to engaging with and listening to you.”

Universal Parks & Resorts spokeswoman Erica Ettori said the pay hike is just one part of Universal Orlando’s focus on improving the work experience of its employees.

“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,” she said in a statement.

Ettori added that Universal is hiring for more than 2,500 positions across the resort.

Universal’s announcement comes as Disney World and unions representing its workers are nearly six months into negotiating a new contract for full-time employees.

Disney and the unions will return to the bargaining table Wednesday after workers overwhelmingly voted to reject the company’s most recent contract offer earlier this month. Of the workers who voted on Feb. 2 and 3, 96% turned down the proposal, according to the Service Trades Council Union.

Wages are the main sticking point in Disney’s negotiations. The company has proposed to gradually increase its starting pay from $15 to $20 an hour over the next five years, giving most full-time workers a raise of $1 per hour year-over-year.

The unions argue this proposal does not give employees enough to afford Central Florida’s high cost of living and are urging the company to immediately raise worker pay to $18 an hour.

Unite Here Local 737, representing Disney’s food and beverage and housekeeping employees, published a November report that found $18 is the minimum an adult with no dependents would need to afford basic necessities in Orange County.

Disney worker Diego Henry is among the union members who have spoken out about their difficulties affording housing, transportation, food and medicine on $15 an hour. Henry said an immediate $3 raise would make a big difference as he tries to move his family out of a one-bedroom apartment.

“It’s kind of hard to give a Mickey bar to a kid when you know that you can’t afford one for your own,” he said.

Before workers rejected the previous contract proposal, Disney said it would have given 46% of the non-tipped, full-time employees represented by the union coalition raises of more than $1 per hour during its first year, and most employees would have seen a 33-46% wage increases during the proposed contract.

Non-wage benefits Disney has offered during bargaining include eight weeks of paid child-bonding time for full-time employees with at least a year of service and an additional 401(k) option.

Representatives for Disney and two of its largest unions did not respond to a request for comment on Universal’s new pay rate Tuesday.

Universal beat Disney to setting a $15 minimum wage in 2021. Universal doesn’t have a unionized workforce, and its staffing is around a third the size of Walt Disney World’s with about 25,000 hourly and salaried employees.

Though Disney and its unions were the first to agree upon an incremental pay raise from $10 an hour in 2018 to $15 an hour in 2021, workers did not begin earning that rate until Oct. 1, 2021. Universal announced in May 2021 its $15 minimum wage would take effect that June.

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