ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) —
Universal Orlando Resort plans to raise its starting minimum wage by $2 to $17 an hour, becoming the wage leader among the big theme parks in central Florida, just as its crosstown rival, Walt Disney World, is in contract talks with service worker unions who are pushing to increase the starting hourly wage from $15 to $18.
The 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 Orlando Resort President and Chief Operating Officer Karen Irwin said in a letter Tuesday to the resort's 25,000 workers.
The starting hourly wage hike is part of a larger effort aimed at improving worker benefits in a tight labor market that includes increasing 401(k) matches and tuition reimbursement, adding compassionate leave, doubling the amount of parental leave and upgrading behind-the-scenes areas for workers like break rooms and bathrooms, park officials said.
“But it doesn’t stop there, our culture seeks to create a path forward that supports our Team Members, gives them an opportunity to grow and fosters a real sense of purpose and belonging," Irwin said in the letter.
Universal Orlando currently is recruiting for 2,500 positions across the resort. It also is gearing up toward opening a new park, Epic Universe, in 2025. The resort's workers aren't unionized.
At crosstown rival Walt Disney World, union members voted down a contract proposal covering 45,000 service workers earlier this month, saying it didn’t go far enough toward helping employees face cost-of-living hikes in housing and other expenses in central Florida. The company and unions plan to return to the negotiating table.
Disney World service workers who are in the six unions that make up the Service Trades Council Union coalition 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 workers by the last year of the five-year contract, an increase of $1 each year for a majority of the workers it covered. Certain positions, like housekeepers, bus drivers and culinary jobs, would start immediately at a minimum of $20 under the proposal.