Universal Orlando Studios Resort has just done something that will drive Disney World Cast Members away from the Mouse–maybe for good.
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It’s no secret that a rivalry exists between Universal Studios Orlando and the Walt Disney World Resort–and it’s likely not just because the two are competing theme park mega-complexes in Central Florida. No, the Disney-Universal rivalry had its beginnings long before even Disneyland Resort in California was created, and it had something to do with a group of animators and a little rabbit named Oswald.
Today, the rivalry continues as each theme park resort fights for the attention of guests by adding the latest and greatest in ride technology, attractions, and entertainment. But this week, Universal Orlando got a leg up as the resort’s president announced an increase in starting pay across the board for team members–but that’s just the beginning.
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Disney’s Cast Members–represented by six different unions–have been in talks with Disney for months now, following the expiration of a deal in October 2022. While more is at stake than only wages, it’s wages that have been the cause for disagreement each time the two parties meet. At one point, unions demanded that Disney set an instant minimum wage of $18 per hour. Disney answered back, saying that 25% of those Cast Members who don’t receive tips would be at $20 per hour within the first year of a new contract and that nearly 50% of them would receive more than a $1 an hour raise in the first year.
Such a contract would have meant that 30,000 full-time employees at Disney World would be making at least $5 more than the minimum wage in the Sunshine State, which is currently set at $11 per hour. Additionally, Cast Members in roles like housekeepers, bus drivers, and culinary Cast Members would have been earning a minimum of $20 an hour immediately.
In early February, Cast Members rejected Disney’s new contract yet again.
Universal Studios, however, has just announced it is raising its minimum wage to $17 per hour. That would put Universal’s pay at a minimum of $6 more per hour than Florida’s minimum wage. The announcement was made to Team Members by Universal Studios’ President and COO, Karen Irwin, in a letter.
“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,” said a Universal Parks & Resorts spokesperson.
But an increase in pay is only the beginning at Universal Orlando. Its 401k match has been elevated, as has its tuition reimbursement programs. The company has also added compassion leave, doubled its parental leave benefit, initiated a new recognition program for team members, and enhanced the way it handles free park tickets for those team members.
The wage increase could lure some of Disney World’s unsatisfied Cast Members over to Universal’s side. But when added to the additional perks, programs, and park tickets, Disney could soon find itself pulling out the stops to keep its Cast Members. Only time will tell.