Disneyland Resort workers’ tentative contract agreement leaves room for Anaheim’s ‘living wage’ ballot measure

Disneyland workers from several unions protested July 3 about the lack of progress from negotiations with the Disneyland Resort. Union leaders and resort officials announced a tentative agreement for a contract on July 23.
Disneyland workers from several unions protested July 3 about the lack of progress from negotiations with the Disneyland Resort. Union leaders and resort officials announced a tentative agreement for a contract on July 23.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The ugly battle over workers’ wages at the Happiest Place on Earth isn’t over.

Although Walt Disney Co. has reached a tentative contract agreement with four unions at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, the media giant and its workers have plenty of fight left in them when it comes to wages for the resort’s 30,000 staffers.

The tentative contract agreement reached Monday applies to about 9,700 people who work in the eateries and retail shops, operate attractions, and provide maintenance at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park, the Disney hotels and a nearby shopping district.


Now the workers and Disney officials are turning their attention to an initiative that the union qualified for Anaheim’s Nov. 6 ballot. It would require the Disneyland Resort and other hospitality businesses that accept a city tax subsidy to pay a minimum of $15 an hour, with a $1 hourly increase each Jan. 1 until 2022.

“These are two completely separate things,” said Denise Anderson, a bargaining committee member with the SEIU-United Service Workers West. “The contract was for the workers in the resort, and the initiative’s impact is citywide.”

With Walt Disney Co. reporting better-than-expected profits and making multi-billion dollar moves to acquire the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox, union leaders at the Disneyland Resort have been working on two tracks to pass some of those profits on to thousands of hourly wage earners.

The unions pressed the Burbank-based media giant to raise wages through contract negotiations while helping to collect a minimum of 13,185 signatures — at least 10% of the city’s voters — for the ballot measure to require living wages for all workers in the resort and other hotels in the city.

Disney and union leaders declined to disclose the pay hikes or other details of the contract that union members will consider approving Thursday, but it is possible, union officials say, that the ballot measure will not only increase wages beyond what is called for in the proposed contract but will extend those higher wages to most of the other resort employees not represented by the four unions.

Already, opponents of the ballot measure — including Disneyland Resort and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce — have placed digital ads on social media sites, describing the initiative as a “job killer.”

Todd Ament, chief executive of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, called the tentative contract agreement “productive and appropriate” in contrast with the “aggressive ballot initiative which will have catastrophic effects on our city.”

The campaign, pitting energized union workers against business leaders backed by Disney’s deep pockets, is expected to become heated and expensive in the next few months. The unions have already drawn the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the former presidential candidate from Vermont who appeared at an Anaheim rally last month.

The unions commissioned a study that found that 73% of Disneyland Resort employees questioned don’t earn enough to pay for such expenses as rent, food and gas. Disney has rejected the study as biased and inaccurate.

“We expect they will spend a lot of money because they have a lot of money,” Anderson said of the opponents of the ballot initiative.

A spokesman for the measure’s opponents — a business coalition dubbed No on the Anaheim Job Killer Initiative — declined to comment on the upcoming campaign.

If the ballot measure is approved by more than half of the voters in Anaheim, it would apply to the Disneyland Resort and at least two luxury hotel projects under construction or proposed in Anaheim.

The Anaheim City Council voted in 2016 to give Disneyland a tax break of about $267 million over a 20-year span to build a luxury hotel on what is now a parking lot near the theme park.

The tax break, which was created in 2015 to promote the construction of high-end hotels in the city, calls for a 70% reduction on the city’s transient occupancy tax for any hotel that is rated as four diamonds or above by AAA’s hotel standards.

Wincome Group, a real estate investment, development and management company based in Anaheim, also expects to get the tax break for building a high-end, $250-million Westin hotel near the Anaheim Convention Center. The hotel is scheduled to open in late 2019.

The company also has plans to build a second 700-room luxury hotel near Disneyland, but Paul Sanford, asset manager for Wincome, has hinted that the project may not be financially feasible if the ballot initiative is approved.

“Efforts like the current minimum wage initiative have forced us to reconsider future developments in the Anaheim Resort District,” he said in a statement. “We need to better understand if developing our new four-diamond hotels — which would create hundreds of high-skill, high-paying jobs — remains economically viable for our company.”

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.