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Falling median pay may reflect pandemic effects rather than real trends

The data covered 85 Florida-based companies in the Russell 3000 that reported 2019 and 2020 median employee pay.
Carnival Cruise Line's Sunrise and Vista ships, along with the MSC Meraviglia, are docked at the Port of Miami in February. For 2020, Carnival reported a 76 percent pay increase for its median employee to $27,151. It’s not that cruise waiters earned more. With the ships not sailing due to the pandemic, the number of employees was down drastically. Most who remained were shore-based employees, who tend to earn more.
Carnival Cruise Line's Sunrise and Vista ships, along with the MSC Meraviglia, are docked at the Port of Miami in February. For 2020, Carnival reported a 76 percent pay increase for its median employee to $27,151. It’s not that cruise waiters earned more. With the ships not sailing due to the pandemic, the number of employees was down drastically. Most who remained were shore-based employees, who tend to earn more. [ SUSAN STOCKER / SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL | South Florida Sun Sentinel ]
Published Dec. 19, 2021

Amid the pandemic, lockdowns and later a tightening job market, employee pay diverged at Florida’s large public companies in 2020. The median employee pay fell by more than 5 percent at 16 companies, rose by at least 5 percent at 35 and hovered within that range for the rest.

Florida Trend examined data provided by MyLogIQ from the companies’ annual disclosures of median employee pay as required by the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. The data covered 85 Florida-based companies in the Russell 3000 that reported 2019 and 2020 median employee pay.

The pandemic produced aberrations. Miami-based cruise operator Carnival, for example, reported a 76 percent increase in pay for its median employee to $27,151. It’s not that cruise waiters earned more. In 2019, Carnival based its median pay calculation on 110,668 employees, many of them ship-based and working six- to 11-month terms. For 2020 with the ships not sailing due to the pandemic, the number was down to 23,986, shore-based employees, who tend to earn more.

A higher median employee compensation at other employers also seemed to be a function of lower-paid employees being out of work. Efforts to obtain comment from Carnival were unsuccessful.

The pandemic’s impact was evident at retailers, restaurants and hospitality industry employers. Restaurant company Bloomin’ Brands reported a 35 percent drop to $9,327, the second-largest percentage decline in Florida. The largest decrease, at nearly 50 percent to $8,664, came at cruise operator Royal Caribbean. The company says it gave stipends and aid to furloughed shipboard employees when the industry came to a standstill, but the stoppage still had a “significant impact” on wages. Efforts to obtain comment from Bloomin’ Brands weren’t successful.

Pay likewise fell at timeshare company Marriott Vacations Worldwide, which saw the median employee’s compensation drop 19 percent to $29,929. The company said the pandemic made 2020 an abnormal year. “We are well positioned for the long-term and anticipate a return to more traditional levels of staffing and compensation as leisure travel resumes,” the company said in a statement.

Daytona Beach-based real estate owner and investor CTO Realty Growth reported its median compensation fell 14 percent to $144,747 for reasons including an expansion of employment — new hires came in at lower compensation levels — and also because it ties pay to performance-based metrics and initiatives. “In large part because of COVID,” initiatives weren’t achieved in 2020, says CFO Matthew Partridge.

Companies in other sectors reported increases.

  • The median employee’s pay at Fort Lauderdale-based retailer AutoNation increased 9 percent to $54,025. AutoNation Executive Vice President Marc Cannon says AutoNation workers received higher commissions and bonuses so that they could participate in the company’s success.
  • Median pay at HCI Group, a Jacksonville-based health care IT company, rose 78 percent to $73,065. “The increase in median compensation you’re seeing is a reflection of the company’s continued investment in its talent,” the company says.
  • Individual company situations produced anomalies. Timeshare company Hilton Grand Vacations saw pay jump from $39,723 to $46,409. The reason: SEC rules require companies to find a specific employee whose pay is the median and track that employee’s pay for three years. As it happens, the pay for Hilton Grand Vacations median employee for the three years from 2017 to 2019 held steady at $39,273. Then a new employee became the designated median employee in 2020 and that employee received a promotion that year and earned overtime, taking annual pay to $46,409, the company says.
  • Defense contractor L3Harris, meanwhile, saw reported median pay increase 70 percent to $99,189. That increase was as large as it was only because 2019′s disclosure covered just half a year, as Melbourne-based Harris merged with New York-based L3. The 2020 disclosure covered a full year, and also the addition of international employees, “where compensation can deviate significantly from median” U.S. pay, says spokeswoman Sara Banda. Florida compensation, she says, has stayed steady; the average Florida salary is $106,000 at L3Harris.

The median employee’s pay climbed at some of the 17 Florida companies where median pay tops $100,000. Those companies averaged 4,274 employees but some are quite small. Real estate investment trust Xenia Hotels & Resorts, one of only two companies where the median pay was over $200,000, employs just 36. Among the companies where median pay is over six figures, the largest employer is Jacksonville-based freight rail company CSX with 19,300, followed by Juno Beach-based NextEra at 14,148.

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Median pay at NextEra Energy, parent of public utility FPL, increased 4 percent to $134,919. It increased 11.5 percent at Miami-based homebuilder Lennar to $114,665, 37.5 percent at Miami-based consulting firm Hackett Group to $171,900. Pay at Lake Mary-based imaging company Faro Technologies increased nearly 82 percent to $108,547. Efforts to obtain comment from the companies were unsuccessful.

Forty-four companies had median employee compensation above the statewide average annual income of $55,845. Pay was under $15,000 at eight companies; most of those were in retail, tourism, the cruise industry or had significant numbers of employees offshore.

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