Anaheim voters face heated campaign over ‘living wage’ initiative before November election

People wearing union shirts were out in large numbers during the Anaheim City Council meeting on June 19, as the council decided to put a controversial "living wage" measure on the November ballot.
People wearing union shirts were out in large numbers during the Anaheim City Council meeting on June 19, as the council decided to put a controversial “living wage” measure on the November ballot.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Anaheim residents can expect an emotional and expensive campaign over the next few months before they decide on a measure to require hospitality businesses — including the Disneyland Resort — to pay its workers a “living wage.”

The stage was set when the Anaheim City Council voted late Tuesday night to place an initiative on the November ballot to hike hourly wages for workers at the two Disney theme parks and nearby hotels that serve the city’s surging tourism industry.

The measure, which targets hospitality businesses that accept a city subsidy, has sparked intense debate between unions for Disneyland Resort workers, who say many of their members don’t earn enough to pay for their basic needs, and business leaders, who say the requirement to pay higher wages will kill economic growth in the city.


During a lengthy and heated council hearing Tuesday night, opponents of the measure suggested that their message to voters will be that the higher-wage initiative will kill thousands of construction jobs and cancel the building of at least two high-end hotels.

Even the debate between council members was contentious, with Mayor Tom Tait calling for a “time out” when the discussion on whether to first call for an economic analysis of the initiative became testy.

Tait said a study would be a waste of time because an independent consultant would have only 30 days to complete the report and would be rushed.

“I think we are better off doing no report rather than a wrong report,” he said before the council voted 4 to 3 to put the initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot without calling for a study.

The initiative was proposed by a coalition of unions representing workers from the Disneyland Resort. The coalition successfully collected the verified signatures from more than 10% of the city’s voters — enough to qualify the initiative for the citywide ballot.

The measure would affect wages of workers at the Disneyland Resort — which includes the Disneyland park, Disney California Adventure Park, three adjacent hotels and several retail businesses — as well as two high-end hotels that are planned in the city.


By law, the City Council was required to respond to the petition either by placing the initiative on the ballot for the next regular election or adopting the measure as law without putting it up for a public vote.

Several Disneyland employees who spoke asked the council to adopt the measure immediately to help workers earn a wage that allows them to pay for their necessities.

“We are not asking for Disney to buy our homes for us or pay for our cars,” said Armando Gonzalez, a Disneyland hotel worker who said he earns $11.41 an hour. “We just want a decent wage.”

But representatives for the construction workers said they feared the initiative would force developers to cancel proposed hotel projects, eliminating up to 3,000 jobs in Anaheim. Opponents of the measure suggested that the loss of the hotels could force the city to raise taxes and cut police services.

“It will kill many of our jobs and put an end to many hotel projects,” said Ron Miller, executive secretary for the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building & Construction Trades Council.

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


Walt Disney Co. representatives previously have said that the average annual pay for all hourly workers at Disneyland Resort is $37,000, or 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 gasoline.

The online survey, funded by the labor groups that are pushing for the 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 representatives have called the survey inaccurate.

The Disneyland Resort has joined an alliance of businesses in Anaheim to fight the initiative. The group said the wage increase would scare off new businesses and stifle economic growth.

Twitter: @hugomartin