Universal Orlando Raises Pay in Bid to Outpace Disney World

February 14, 2023, 3:24 PM · Many team members at the Universal Orlando Resort will be getting a raise this June, Universal announced today.

Universal Orlando will raise its starting rate for team members at the resort to $17 an hour, up $2 from the current $15 an hour, starting June 4. That will put Universal ahead of rival Walt Disney World on starting employee pay - at least for now.

Walt Disney World cast members recently rejected a proposal from Disney for a $1 an hour pay raise. Disney's cast members are represented by unions, while Universal Orlando's team members are not. For decades, Disney's union negotiations effectively set the standard for wages in the Orlando area, as Disney is so big that employers who went too far below Disney's pay found it difficult to attract workers that wouldn't pretty much flake immediately.

In recent years, as Universal's attendance and revenue has soared following the opening of its Harry Potter lands, Universal Orlando has gotten more aggressive in trying to anticipate and get out ahead of Disney's pay increases, to give it first crack at workers looking for a new gig in the Orlando area. Once the proposed $1 an hour raise at Disney went down, Universal knew that it was going to have to go to at least $2 an hour to hope to stay even with Disney. Pay also will rise for Universal workers making above the company's minimum.

"Wage is just one element of our continued focus on building an even better Universal Orlando work experience," a Universal Orlando spokesperson said in a statement released to the press. "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."

Universal's move also effectively eliminates any chance that Disney would play hardball with its unions and refuse to go above its rejected $1 offer. Universal Orlando's $17 now is the floor upon which Disney's unions can negotiate, trying to convince Disney management to go above and re-establish Walt Disney World as the premier working environment for theme park employees in the Orlando area.

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Replies (11)

February 14, 2023 at 3:33 PM

It sounds like a good start, but MIT calculate the living wage in Orlando as $18.64 per hour. An employer of choice should be well above that, instead they're paying less than it costs to produce the labour they're consuming.

February 14, 2023 at 3:39 PM

Capitalism is all about skimming value from labor, but given the huge profits that both Disney and Universal have been raking in from their theme parks recently, WDW could go to $19 without straining.

The race to pay park workers ought to keep pace with the race to raise prices on park guests, at least.

February 14, 2023 at 4:21 PM

I just looked it up and on google it said that minimum wage for Florida is $11 for 2023. That's a lot lower then I thought it would be so both Universal and Disney pay way above that but they can definitely afford to go even higher. The minimum wage in my province Alberta is already $15 an hour but most large companies pay between $19-$25 an hour starting wages depending on the industry. Large hotel chains are typically in the $20 an hour range for example.

February 14, 2023 at 8:57 PM

Even as we move past the pandemic, staffing levels still aren't where they need to be for many parks. So the pressure is definitely on for Universal to get more employees while they prepare an all-new campus down the road.

February 15, 2023 at 7:46 AM

This is obviously a move to attract and retain workers that will be needed to staff Epic Universe.

February 15, 2023 at 9:44 AM

Isn't February/March the usual timing for ticket and AP price hikes? Time to buy now as I can't see them skipping any increases this year!

February 15, 2023 at 10:35 AM

@MrTorrance-- This is actually my first year getting an AP for Universal. It doesn't expire until October so I wasn't thinking about upgrading yet but if you can do it ahead of time I might cause your right it will definitely go up!

February 15, 2023 at 11:35 AM

Russell - Given the current state of the labor market, I think Universal is gonna need another pay bump beyond this one to get the numbers they will need for Epic. But this raise should help keep Universal from falling into too much of a labor-shortage hole before its Epic Universe recruiting push.

February 15, 2023 at 12:02 PM

@Robert - I would anticipate that Universal will want to staff Epic Universe with a substantial number of experienced personnel from IOA and USF. While the company will need to do a major push to "staff up" in advance of 2025, they will likely pull from their experienced and high-performing workforce to form the foundation of the Epic Universe staff.

This raise will help motivate current Universal employees to stay with the company, and form the backbone of their more experienced staff that will be needed for the new park. I would guess that like Disney, Universal chooses new attraction staffing based on tenure and current employee performance, giving more experienced and better performing staff first choice at working on new rides and attractions. As Disney did with Galaxy's Edge, Universal will likely make pitches to existing employees to work at the new park as a perk to make sure they have plenty of experienced personnel working at Epic Universe on day 1.

February 15, 2023 at 7:12 PM

A company has to work quite hard to have their employees unionize in Florida. I headed up HR for a large national corporation nd we had thousands of employees in Florida. The employees were reasonable and as long as we were transparent and treated them fairly we had no organizing threats.

Disney has never been known for treating their hourly employees well and they have the legacy of unions from California. If I was Universal, I would employ a long term strategy to exploit Disney's employee relations model.

February 17, 2023 at 11:34 AM

Robert, all Universal needs to do to adequately staff EU is to stay ahead of Disney's employee pay the next couple of years. It's like the old adage of two guys trying to outrun a bear. One guy doesn't have to be able to outrun the bear...he just needs to outrun the other guy.

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