Campaign for Living Wage in Anaheim Resort Kicks Off With Fighting Spirit

Shevlin rallies fellows cast members. Photo by Gabriel San Roman

The scene at Workers United Local 50 on Saturday didn’t resemble the somber funeral it otherwise might have been. Disney cast members from various labor unions gathered in the morning to kick off the Measure L campaign for living wages in the Anaheim Resort, a fight that’s far from dead. “Yes on L” signs decorated the union headquarters and a stack of mailers ready to make a pitch for fair pay to Anaheim voters by November rested on the table. 

“The skeptics said we could not gather 20,000 signatures in two weeks,” said Shakeel Syed, executive director of Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), during a rally held outside. “We proved them wrong and today we are launching another campaign to prove them wrong [again].” 

If passed by Anaheim voters in November, the measure raises wages for resort workers at taxpayer subsidized corporations to $15 an hour in 2019. With dollar-per-year increases, pay tops at $18 an hour in 2022 before cost-of-living adjustments take over. According to June poll figures obtained by the Weekly, Measure L seems poised for an easy victory at the ballot box.

But that was before unexpected political twists and turns in Anaheim last month. Subsidies for a planned luxury hotel at the base of Downtown Disney came into dispute over the summer with the city arguing that $267 million in total bed-taxes were site-specific and would be negated by the project’s new location. Disney initially responded by halting the hotel’s construction indefinitely before Disneyland Resort president Josh D’Amaro, to the shock of many, asked Anaheim to cancel the agreement as well as lift a decades-long entertainment tax moratorium

In acquiescing to Disney, Anaheim terminated both agreements by unanimous vote during an Aug. 28 council meeting. Despite being at the heart of heated political battles in the past, the move came with only polite applause in half-empty council chambers. Critics assailed Disney’s sudden reversal as a shrewd legal move to position itself outside of Measure L’s provisions targeting resort-area corporations that receive tax rebates from the city. 

The principal author of the living wage measure, in an exclusive with the Weekly, reassured many by arguing that it still very much applied to the Disneyland Resort, not just select hotels with bed-tax rebate agreements. To make the case, attorney Richard McCracken pointed to a massive 1996 Disneyland expansion deal involving bonds paid by tax revenue generated in large part from the Disneyland Resort that remain current with interest through 2037.

Complex legal arguments over tax rebate subsidies aside, Syed distilled the measure in far more easily digestible terms. “This measure is simply saying that look if you’re getting tax dollars, you better pay a fair wage, a living wage to all the workers,” he said. “Is that simple enough, clear enough?” 

“Yes!” cast members responded before later breaking out in chants of “Sí, se puede!”

Glynndana Shevlin, a food and beverage concierge at the Disneyland Hotel, rallied her fellow workers one last time before they headed off into a hot summer day of campaigning for a higher minimum wage. 

“Until November 6, we’re going to knock those doors,” she said. “We’re going to keep knocking.”

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