Disneyland Resort Workers File Thousands of Signatures for $15 Living Wage Measure

Housekeeper Veronica Chavez addresses the rally. All photos by Gabriel San Roman

Disneyland Resort housekeepers, security guards and food workers marched on Anaheim city hall this morning to celebrate another victory in the fight for a living wage. They brought with them eight boxes filled with roughly 22,000 signatures from registered voters in the city. For weeks, canvassers knocked on doors soliciting support for putting a $15 minimum wage increase for subsidized companies in the Anaheim resort on the November ballot.

“When we first filed the initiative less than a month ago, we were confident that the Anaheim residents would be with us,” said Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, at the press conference. “Today is May Day, International Workers Day, and what a better way to celebrate the working people of Anaheim than this?” 

The Coalition of Resort Labor Unions, comprised of 9 members from 11 union locals, first unveiled the ballot petition campaign on Feb. 28 during a historic town hall packed with nearly 1,000 workers at the Anaheim Sheraton Hotel. The announcement came following the presentation of the “Working for the Mouse” report by co-authors from Occidental College and the Economic Roundtable. The coalition commissioned the study with an anonymous survey of 5,000 cast members (as the Mouse calls its employees) revealing troubling statistics of working poverty at the Disneyland Resort, including 11 percent of respondents claiming to have been “homeless—or not having a place of their own to sleep—in the past two years.” 

Glynndana Shevlin poses proudly with petition signatures.

Disneyland Resort workers joined with fellow union brothers and sisters in sharing their experiences of hardship once more this morning. “I love making magic with our guests,” said Glynndana Shevlin, a Disneyland Hotel food and beverage concierge with 30 years on the job. “I also want to share that I’ve been evicted many times from living in apartments or a trailer park. I am currently renting a room from a friend. Even though I work full-time, I sometimes have to choose between buying medicine, food and rent because of Disney’s low wages.” 

Disney spokeswoman Suzi Brown attended the rally, but deferred all media questions to Todd Ament. The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President and CEO is also chairman for the “No on the Anaheim Job-Killer” coalition. The group held a press conference of their own at city hall a day before the kickoff of the union-backed petition drive and claimed raising the minimum wage would result in thousands of lost jobs. 

“This measure is a job killer with severe unintended consequences on the working families of Anaheim,” said Ament in a statement forwarded to the Weekly before the rally. “If enacted, this policy would immediately kill 4,000 jobs and would cost the City of Anaheim hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue over the next 30 years. It lays the groundwork for sweeping financial impacts to our city’s businesses, putting future jobs and investment at risk.”

Mike Lyster whistles while he works!

But for all the arguments made against the living wage ordinance, the union coalition handed boxes filled with thousands of signatures over to city spokesman Mike Lyster after the rally. He loaded his cart up and wheeled them into the city clerk’s office. Karen Romero Estrada, research and policy analyst with Orange County Communities for Responsible Development (OCCORD), signed paperwork as a resident proponent of the ordinance. 

“I remember [my aunt] coming home with cracked skin because of harsh cleaning chemicals, her joints tired from lifting heavy bedding all day, and her stories of having to skip lunch because of her tight hotel cleaning schedule,” said Romero during the rally. “My aunt is just one of tens of thousands of workers in the resort area that keeps Disneyland and its tourism alive and yet she, like many others, are underappreciated, undervalued and struggle to make ends meet.” 

If passed by a majority of Anaheim voters in November, the ordinance would immediately raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. An annual dollar increase ups wages to $18 per hour by 2022. After that, yearly increases would follow cost-of-living adjustments. The ordinance only applies to Anaheim Resort companies that have or will benefit from city subsidies like a trio of luxury hotels set to be constructed around Disney’s theme parks. Disney, itself, benefited from a massive “public-private partnership” in ’96 that spurred the construction of California Adventure, Downtown Disney and the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. 

The union coalition argues that the wage increases will have an economic stimulus effect. “When people have more money in their pockets, they spend it locally,” Briceño said. “When the Anaheim voters pass this initiative in November, approximately $338 million will be pumped into the local economy. More money in Anaheim means more jobs, better jobs and a thriving community.” But before Anaheim goes to the polls on the issue, the county clerk’s office has to certify 14,500 of the signatures before qualifying the ballot measure.

Once that happens, the campaign for Orange County’s only living ordinance really begins. 

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