Orlando tourism workers ask for $18/hr minimum wage, cite rising rent, inflation, food costs

Orlando theme park, hotel, and restaurant workers are asking for a raise in their minimum wage to $18 in light of rising rent, inflation, and food costs that have made current wages unlivable.

On Thursday, Local 737 union members presented a report detailing their request for an increase in minimum pay from $15 to $18/hour. Orlando currently has over 19,000 workers in food, beverage, and housekeeping across theme parks, restaurants, and hotels.

“We are here again with one simple message. Orlando tourism workers need a raise,” said President Jeremy Haicken during remarks on Thursday. Haicken made reference to the previous wage increase in 2018 that saw his union successfully negotiate a minimum wage increase from $10 to $15.

“Briefly, for a very short moment in time before the pandemic, that $15 minimum wage resulted in a living wage for tourism workers in Orlando,” said Haicken. In the past several years, however, “skyrocketing” rent, inflation, and food costs have “put the cost of living completely out of reach for Orlando tourism” employees, according to Haicken.

He says the group is proposing a $3 raise effective immediately for every worker in the tourism industry. That would take minimum wages to $18 an hour, and all other wages would be increased by the same rate.

“Because the cost of living has gone up so much, only a $3 raise can get a worker and their family above water in this environment,” said Haicken.

During their presentation, union representatives shared results from a survey conducted amongst 2,415 hourly, waged workers. That survey showed that 69% of respondents didn’t have enough money to make rent or mortgage payments on a monthly basis.

Additionally, 66% of respondents said they had less than $100 in their savings account, and 39% said they were worried about being homeless. Over 40% of the respondents said that financial concerns were hurting their relationships.

Multiple members from the group spoke of their individual experiences, citing the need to take on roommates, forgo food, or inability to pay medical expenses as major concerns.

The survey indicated that nearly half of all tourism workers regularly skip meals to save on money.

The group says that before the pandemic, the raise to $15 was in line with the living wage, which was estimated at $12.70 for Orange County residents at the time.

In the years since, that living wage has risen to $18.19, while minimum wages at the theme parks has not.

In the same time, revenues have risen across Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld by over $1.4 billion, according to the report.

The report suggests that at the current rate, a single adult making $15/hour will generate $2,236 in weekly revenue from 40 hours of work after taxes. That falls approximately $530 short of the total cost of basic needs, including rent, car, and food expenses.

To read the full report from the union, visit the Local 737 “Orlando Tourism Workers Need a Raise” report.

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