After winning their own fight for higher wages, the UNITE HERE union representing hospitality workers at Disney World held a rally Thursday demanding Universal employees get the same raise.

At the same time workers marched near the corner Kirkland and Vineland roads, Universal appeared to meet some of their demands, announcing it will raise starting wages at its Orlando resort to $12 per hour in February.

Universal spokesman Tom Schroeder told the Orlando Sentinel it was a “long-planned” decision. But It’s also not unexpected.

While employees at Universal, SeaWorld Orlando and other area resorts aren’t unionized like their counterparts at Disney World, they have followed the Mouse’s lead when it comes to compensation. When Disney gave its unionized workers a raise in 2014, with the minimum then going from $8 to $10 per hour, Universal and SeaWorld Orlando boosted pay for their own workers within two months. More recently, Universal matched the $1,000 bonus handed out by Disney in the wake of Congress passing its tax cut law in 2017 — which unionized Disney workers only received after a new contract was agreed upon in September.

“I think the Disney wage increase was a move to get out in front of the market and ensure they have the staff to meet customer demand as wages are rising,” said Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida Institute for Economic Competitiveness.

Universal did not respond to Orlando Rising’s requests for comment on the UNITE HERE rally or what motivated the announcement about raises. The union claimed credit, however, writing on its Facebook page: “Universal’s action is a clear and unmistakable response to our union power here in Central Florida.”

The hike to $12 at Universal will put its workers on equal footing with the March 2019 pay raise for Disney World workers. It doesn’t go as far as UNITE HERE wanted — it had asked for other Orlando parks to “at least” match the Disney wage hikes, which will incrementally raise the resort’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2021.

“Workers at Universal work just as hard as I do and they deserve the same wages we achieved at Disney,” said Krysta White, a Disney ride operator. “Raises aren’t just for us. Raises are universal!”

SeaWorld has yet to announce any changes to its pay structure in the wake of Disney union deal or Universal’s announcement. Travis Claytor, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment’s director of corporate communications, told Orlando Rising it wouldn’t specifically comment on the activities of other organizations.

“SeaWorld has a competitive pay philosophy, and we are continually assessing internal and external factors to ensure we stay competitive within the industry, including in the Orlando area,” said Claytor.

About The Author

John has covered sports, politics, government and health care for a variety of news outlets, including the Illinois Radio Network and Rivet News Radio, as well as freelance work for the Florida Radio Network and contributing to the Unofficial Universal Orlando Podcast. He is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago. You can find him in the theme parks every chance he gets.

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