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Initiative to give Disneyland workers a 'living wage' qualifies for the ballot in Anaheim

Initiative to give Disneyland workers a 'living wage' qualifies for the ballot in Anaheim
A large crowd strolls down Main Street during Disneyland's diamond jubilee celebration in June 2015. A petition to require major employers who receive city subsidies to pay a "living wage" has qualified for the Anaheim ballot. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Unions that represent workers at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim are one step closer to requiring the theme park to pay its employees a “living wage.”

The Orange County Registrar of Voters has certified that a petition to force major Anaheim employers who get city subsidies to boost their workers’ hourly salaries had produced a minimum of 13,185 valid signatures — or at least 10% of the city’s voters.

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When the Anaheim City Council meets Tuesday, it can respond by either putting the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot for a public vote or adopt a city ordinance to impose the wages called for by the petition initiative.

The council also has the option of requesting an economic impact report on the initiative before taking any action.

The measure would require Disneyland Resort and other large Anaheim employers that have accepted city subsidies to pay workers a minimum of $15 an hour starting Jan. 1, 2019, with salaries rising $1 an hour every Jan. 1 through 2022. Once the wage reaches $18 an hour, annual raises would then be tied to the cost of living.

In the past, Disney officials have said that the average annual pay for all hourly workers at the resort is $37,000, which calculates to about $17.80 an hour.

Union leaders say the hourly salary of their members is much lower. They released a survey in February that found that 73% of Disneyland Resort workers questioned said they don’t earn enough to pay for expenses such as rent, food and gas.

The online survey, funded by the labor groups that are pushing for the “living wage” measure, also found that 11% of resort employees have been homeless or have not had a place of their own in the last two years.

Disney officials called the survey inaccurate.

An alliance of business groups in Anaheim responded to the latest development Thursday by urging the council to request an economic analysis before taking future action on the measure.

Todd Ament, the president and chief executive of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, and chairman of the alliance against the living wage initiative, called it a job killer.

“We’d see the immediate loss of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue,” he said in a statement. “It is vital that the facts about this job-killing measure come to light.”

The coalition of 11 unions representing workers at Disneyland, Disney California Adventure Park and nearby hotels, shops and restaurants, dismissed the doomsday prediction, saying that many workers earn so little that they must live in subsidized housing and use food stamps to make ends meet.

Higher wages, the unions say, would enable workers to pay their household bills without government support.

Still, Andrew Cohen, a spokesman for one of the unions that pushed for the petition, Unite Here Local 11, said he would not oppose a move by the city of Anaheim to study the economic impact of paying a living wage to such workers.

“The more information that comes out on this, the better,” he said.

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