Disney World, Universal Leave Employees Worried about Becoming Homeless

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Credit: Disney/Universal/Canva

Disney World and Universal give their workers the short end of the stick when it comes to wages, leading many of them to worry about becoming homeless, according to a report released on Thursday.

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Credit: Unite Here Local

The report, created by Unite Here Local 737, one of the hospitality industry unions that represents Cast Members working at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, found that those workers must earn at least $18 per hour, just to meet basic needs. Cast Members working at the Florida theme park resort, along with other Orlando tourism employees, are among some of the lowest paid in the region’s economy, per the Orlando Sentinel.

Findings in the report state that 69% of the hospitality staff who were surveyed across five Orlando employers, including Walt Disney World, struggle to make their rent payments or mortgage payments each month. And 39% of them say they worry about becoming homeless.

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Credit: DisneyFanatic

In addition to those figures, the report also states that 45% of those surveyed say they skip meals, and 25% of them go without prescribed medications because of the costs associated with them. Also, 62% say they have less than $100 in savings.

According to Unite Here Local 737, Orlando’s theme parks and hotels have the ability to increase their minimum wage offerings to $18 per hour.

A report released on Thursday morning shows that Orange County, Florida, hotels set record average room rates in the month of September, generating the highest tourism tax collections of the fiscal year. Additionally, Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando have both reported earnings that rival or surpass revenue earned in recent quarters and in pre-pandemic quarters.

Universal Orlando Resort

Credit: Aditya Vyas, Unsplash

Local 737 represents approximately 19,000 hospitality workers in Orlando, 17,000 of which work in food service and housekeeping at Disney World. To compile the union’s report, they polled more than 2,400 workers over a two-week span in October from the following companies:

The report comes as Disney and Cast Member unions continue to negotiate on wages, healthcare, sick leave, and other items. Negotiations began in August, but as no agreement has been found, a fifth round of talks is scheduled to take place on November 29 and December 1.

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“Today, Central Florida is plagued with a rent crisis and struggling families,” the union’s report reads. “If workers across the region’s biggest industry got an immediate, three-dollar raise, Central Florida could start to recover.”

universal studios orlando globe

Credit: Universal Studios Orlando

The report also includes accounts of employees’ struggles to afford necessities.

Per the Orlando Sentinel:

The Service Trades Council Union, including Local 737, reached an agreement with Walt Disney World in 2018 to gradually raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by October 2021. The agreement caused a ripple effect that led to other local hospitality employers, including Universal Orlando, raising their wages in recent years.

But the rising costs of housing, food, transportation, and other necessities amid historic inflation have offset these increases, Local 737 President Jeremy Haicken [said].

The report created by Local 737 calculated families’ costs of living, and compared those expenses with the income possible for workers making $16.50 per hour:

Using just the average costs for a studio apartment, groceries, gas and car payments, and insurance, the union’s report calculated a single employee working a full-time job at $15 an hour would fall $530 short of making their basic monthly expenses in Orlando. He or she would need to earn $2,766 a month but only earns $2,236 after tax, it said.

For a family of four with two working parents, each earning $16.50 an hour, the shortage is even starker. The union calculated an average family would need $6,047 a month at a minimum but would fall $1,533 short of meeting their expenses.

“It feels impossible because everything’s going up, and we’re here with the same money,” said Maria Jose Galarraga, who earns $15 an hour at a quick-service dining venue at Disney World and lives with her parents because she can’t afford rent. “We’re just stuck.”

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!