Dozens of precinct walkers gathered at the downtown Anaheim office of Workers United Local 50 early Saturday morning to kickoff a $15 living wage campaign for the city’s resort area. They poured cups of coffee and plucked pan dulce from a pink box before listening to leaders of the nine-member Coalition of Resort Labor Union rally the cause. “How exciting is this?” Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, asked the crowd. “This is the day that we begin and we’re off to get 20,000 signatures. Are we going to get those?” The crowed responded with a rowdy “yeah!”
The coalition unveiled the proposed ordinance at a historic Feb. 28 town hall in Anaheim following the release a damning survey of Disneyland Resort workers. The union-commissioned study revealing the cost-of-living struggles that accompany low wages, including 11 percent of the workforce having struggled with homelessness in the past two years, splashed across international headlines. Organizers emphasized the living wage measure’s key points–that is solely applies to subsidized companies in the Anaheim resort like Disneyland and not small businesses–when preparing precinct walkers.
The task at hand is no easy one. The campaign will have five weeks to gather enough qualifying signatures by Apr. 27 in order to have the measure appear on the November ballot. District three councilman Jose F. Moreno offered words of encouragement at the union office before groups departed for Anaheim’s working class neighborhoods. But the scene at Anaheim city hall, where business interests and their political pals rallied against the campaign, differed greatly in tone the day before the kickoff.
A professional announcer brought up spiffy-dressed speakers at Friday’s anti-living wage rally after playing a quick jazzy tune from “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck. “Today we are here to urge voters to say no the Anaheim job killer initiative,” said Todd Ament, Anaheim Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, amid boos from protesters. “This initiative is bad for business, bad for workers, and bad for our community.” Ament warned that hoteliers are already rethinking the construction of the second of two GardenWalk Hotels that a previous city council controversially gave away $158 million in subsidies for in 2013.
Union activists crashed the rally and held up signs with statistics from the Disneyland Resort worker survey at the press conference. The agitation clearly unnerved Anaheim Hills councilwoman Kris Murray when she took her turn at the podium. “I want to really highlight for everyone who’s gathered today the contrast in the temperament and confrontation that’s being advanced by the effort and the group that’s forwarding this job killer initiative,” said Murray. “Excuse me, I will pause,” she later warned amid continued heckles.
The Disney-backed two-term councilwoman pitted workers against each other by highlighting how building trade unions negotiated Project Labor Agreements for three luxury hotels coming to the Anaheim resort. Unite Here Local 11, which organizes hotel workers, only gained card-check neutrality for a proposed high-end Disneyland hotel, but not the other two. “This isn’t labor versus business,” said Murray. “This is about one group, who makes significantly more than the people they represent, not even picking up a phone to try to represent them before these agreements were adopted.”
At the press conference, business leaders and politicians announced the formation of a “No on the Anaheim Job-Killer” coalition of their own. Speakers continued on warning that raising the minimum wage increase would lead employers to replace workers by automation and convert more jobs to part-time work–the latter already happened at Disneyland while wages declined following a strike in 1984. The ordinance would set the minimum wage at $15 per hour in 2019 with annual dollar increases bringing it to $18 per hour in 2022. Ament called it an “extreme” proposal for an “out-of-touch” wage. The two sides gathered at city hall traded barbs in verbal confrontations after the press conference ended.
Much quieter conversations took place on Saturday morning when precinct walkers canvassed registered voters in Anaheim’s working class neighborhoods. Ada Tamayo, a Unite Here Local 11 organizer, and Arelia Rabadan, a housekeeper at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, knocked on apartment doors across the street from Anaheim Plaza on the city’s west side. “Buenos días,” Tamayo called out after tapping her car key a few times on a metal screen door. A woman appeared from the apartment.
“The city of Anaheim gives companies like Disney millions in subsidies,” Tamayo explained in Spanish. “What we’re asking is that hotels that receive subsidies pay a fair wage.” The woman was supportive as her sister worked for $12 per hour at Disneyland but wasn’t the registered voter they sought. Even though working-class neighborhoods would be expected to be more favorable of the ballot initiative, many registered voters weren’t at home, but at work as family members explained. The women had better luck with a man working outside on a Honda Civic. “That sounds like a good thing,” he said of the measure before signing his name. “Is that all?” he asked. “Yes!” Tamayo said. “After that, vote!”
The canvassers got closer to their goal of 30 signatures by day’s end. At another apartment complex, Tamayo delivered her spiel once more. “Isn’t the minimum wage already going up to $15 per hour?” another man asked. “Yes, by 2023,” Tamayo said of the state’s minimum wage law. “We want it much sooner. Would you support us?” The man had a unique perspective, having worked as a bartender for years at the Grand Californian Hotel and at Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria at Downtown Disney. “Good luck to you,” he said after signing his name.
One more signature down, tens of thousands to go.
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.