Union Kicks Off Referendum Drive Aimed at Anaheim Luxury Hotel Subsidy Deals

Ada Briceño speaks outside the Anaheim Plaza HotelEXPAND
Ada Briceño speaks outside the Anaheim Plaza Hotel
Photo by Gabriel San Roman / OC Weekly

Dozens of union activists donning red UNITE HERE Local 11 shirts paced in front of the Anaheim Plaza Hotel yesterday with petitions in hand. Under the banner of "Citizens for a Better Anaheim," they kicked off a referendum drive aimed at two of three lavish hotel tax subsidies granted by the city council last month. The Anaheim Plaza and Anabella Hotels in the resort district are set to receive 70 percent bed-tax kickbacks over 20 years in return for upgrading into 4-star Diamond luxury destinations.

"They don't need subsidies, " Ada Briceño, Secretary-Treasurer for Unite Here Local 11, said in Spanish during a press conference outside the Anaheim Plaza Hotel. "That money is needed for better services in the city," she added, noting that the hotel deals were approved before the November elections which could change the makeup of the current subsidy-friendly city council.

Father Arturo Ferreras, a city council candidate challenging incumbent Lucille Kring in District 4, spoke next. "I'm not solely a candidate, but a resident of Anaheim," Ferreras said in Spanish. "Our community is angry because we are tired of so many gifts of millions to companies that don't need them." District 4 includes Disneyland and the surrounding resort area. Kring is one of three council members to have approved the subsidies.

Citizens for a Better Anaheim, made up of union activists and residents, have their work cut out for them in the petition drive effort that started in earnest last Saturday, three days late thanks to a mix up from city hall. If successful, the campaign will give Anaheim voters the power to pull the developer agreements for the Wincome Group affiliated hotels. But they'll have to work fast. The deadline to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November 2018 election at the earliest is just about three weeks away. The group needs more than 12,000 Anaheim residents signing on by August 25.

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"Believe me, we're determined," Briceño told the Weekly after the press conference wrapped. "As long as there's daylight we're getting the signatures." It's not the first time a petition drive has attempted to put the issue of hotel subsidies before Anaheim voters. Spurred by a January 2012 vote to give away $158 million in subsidies to a pair of GardenWalk hotels, an alliance of Republicans and Democrats dubbed themselves "Take Back Anaheim" that year and vowed to put all such hotel deals before city voters instead of council members. It largely fizzled after the Orange County Employee Association (OCEA) pulled out of the effort and later gained a good contract for city workers.

This time around, Citizens for a Better Anaheim is much more narrowly focused and isn't even taking on the third hotel project to have benefited from incentive program subsidies last month. In addition to the Wincome Group hotels, the council also approved the largest hotel subsidy in Anaheim history for Disney's 4-Star Diamond plans. Disney and Unite Here Local 11 have a prior agreement on unionizing hotel workers and with that, the union points to the hotel deal as an example about how the public could benefit more from developer agreements.

The Disney and Wincome Group luxury hotels all did negotiate a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with building and construction trade unions. "We're glad that the temporary jobs will be good paying, but we need to push for the permanent jobs," Briceño says. "They need to be union." She points to the Wincome Group hotels being beneficiaries of sweetheart deals from top to bottom. Not only do they receive bed-tax benefits but they don't have any commitments to provide higher-paying hotel worker jobs with benefits.

And that has effects beyond level playing grounds for hoteliers. "When there's other places that are non-union, the standard drops," Briceño says. "When I go back to negotiate with the Anaheim Hilton, if they have to compare themselves to a non-union standard and less benefits, that's exactly what they're going to ask for." Unite Here Local 11 would rather have the two hotels not be built in light of that scenario. Construction is slated to begin in 2019, a year after union members hope Anaheim voters will have the chance to revoke the deals at the ballot box.

But in order for that to be the case, they're going to need a lot of help from Anaheim residents and voters — and fast!

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