Cedar Point sent shockwaves through the theme park industry yesterday and not for a record setting roller coaster. Across the country, employers of low wage jobs are feeling the squeeze from not being able to find enough candidates to work. Many are blaming the extended unemployment benefits, but we think the issue may run a little deeper than that.
Here is the statement Cedar Point released yesterday regarding their new season. You read that correctly. First, they are offering a sign-on bonus of $500 for food and beverage. Secondly, they are increasing their starting pay to $20 an hour for a part time or seasonal gig. To my knowledge, that may be the highest starting wage in the United States for a theme park worker.
That last paragraph is also extremely interesting. “Updating our operating calendar” means that in the month of June, Cedar Point will be actually closing two days a week. This gives their employees some time off and a chance to recharge. Those of you who have worked in Orlando during the summer months will know that theme parks will work you six (sometimes seven) days a week if business needs dictate it.
Keep in mind, this labor shortage in 2021 is hardly a theme park problem. In Gatlinburg, Tennessee some restaurants are closing one to two days a week to give their staff some much needed time off. This is happening in service industry jobs all across the country. Locally in my area, most fast food locations don’t open their dining rooms because they can’t find enough staff to clean it. Thus, you can only carry out or go through the drive-through most days of the week.
While the extended unemployment benefit compounds the issue, is that the root of the problem here? Keep in mind, in the case of Cedar Point, most people who make up their workforce are seasonal/part-time. Meaning that they were most likely not eligible for unemployment benefits from being laid off from Cedar Fair (the parent company). Since the pandemic began before the season could begin in 2020, the vast majority of workers at Cedar Point couldn’t get benefits from being laid off from the resort since they weren’t working there at the time anyway.
I actually think that the current employer issues come down to perspective. The pandemic has given people time to reflect on life. What’s important? Family? Where you live? A living wage? A job? Closeness to friends and family? Everyone’s answer is different. However one thing I think is unfair to say: everyone is lazy who doesn’t want to work in the service industry.
For years, employers have taken service industry employees for granted. Sure, you can teach employees to be courteous and deliver great service, but most often employers don’t pay a living wage for those same people. Continuing to be courteous to a guest in 100-degree heat is not easy or fun. Yes, employers like Disney have slowly inched toward paying $15 an hour in Orlando, but is it enough long-term? That is an interesting question and one that will be fascinating to see play out.
If you’re the type that doesn’t believe in raising the minimum wage, this must be your dream come true. Often times, those that are in that camp believe that the market will dictate what wages should be. Indeed, that is exactly what is happening with Cedar Point right now. Will prices most likely go up as a result? I’d be shocked if they didn’t. Its hard to justify these kind of labor increases (the most expensive part of running a theme park) and not pass some of that on to your customers.
If you’ve ever worked in a theme park (currently or past), did you feel like you were just a number? Here’s my bet. I’d venture to say that 90% of theme park workers feel like they aren’t a person and are totally dispensable. Want to try an experiment? Either on Twitter or Facebook, if you feel (or felt) like you are just a number to a giant theme park, just leave a comment with #IFeelLikeANumber or #IFeltLikeANumber. You are not alone. It’s a fun, yet thankless job that may be enjoyable, but can be degrading long term based on how you’re treated not only by customers, but by lower management all the way to the top.
Will Cedar Point’s $20 an hour start a wage war between theme parks? Highly unlikely. Keep in mind, the cost of living and other competing service industry jobs in the area were the drivers here. Cedar Point isn’t competing with Disneyland or Six Flags Over Georgia for workers. Thus, the business decision was made based on local economic needs, not national ones.
On the other hand, this current labor shortage should give you some hope. The only way wages will go up, benefits will increase and workers will hopefully be appreciated is exactly what is happening right now. It’s kind of sad that it took a pandemic to get there, but there are some good things that will come from it. Maybe this is one of them? Your thoughts?
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