Disneyland workers plan on appealing an Orange County Superior Court judge’s new decision this week that ruled the company didn’t fall under an Anaheim law requiring higher minimum pay for workers.
The workers’ lawsuit ran nearly two years since it was filed in late 2019, alleging that Disneyland had failed to follow a new minimum wage law approved by the voters in 2018 that required any businesses receiving a city subsidy to pay workers $17 an hour, with annual $1 increases.
Randy Renick, the attorney representing the Disney employees who launched the class action, said they’re already planning on appealing the judge’s ruling.
“We think the judge’s ruling is wholly inconsistent with the intent of the voters. The voters were clear that when a corporation takes a public benefit such as Disney did here for more than $300 million they should pay their employees a living wage,” he said in a Friday morning phone interview.
The current state minimum wage is $14 per hour, and Disney pays its employees at a minimum rate of $15 an hour.
While Disney doesn’t explicitly receive a subsidy from the city, a set of 1997 city-issued bonds worth $510 million altogether paid for by Anaheim taxpayers helped cover a new parking structure and build new infrastructure improvements at California Adventure along with other projects throughout the city.
The Walt Disney Company did not return requests for comment on Friday morning.
Despite the bonds being over 20 years old, the city still gives up millions every year to cover the interest and payments.
Disney also runs the parking structure and keeps all the profits it generates while leasing it from Anaheim for $1 a year.
According to a Voice of OC review of Anaheim’s budget, the city spent $32.8 million this year alone and over $125 million on those 1997 bond payments alone since the 2018-19 fiscal year according to the city’s budget records.
All of the hotel and sales tax from any Disney properties built from 1995 to 2009 goes straight to paying for those bonds, along with 20% of hotel taxes throughout the city according to the city budget.
“All this was paid for with what Disney would have otherwise paid in taxes,” Renick wrote in the original class action complaint from 2019. “Almost all of Disney’s transient occupancy, sales and real property taxes go to payments on the bonds.”
“Disney got a rebate of the best kind: it got its taxes back before it paid them.”
But in a decision issued this week, Orange County Superior Court Judge William Claster said while Disney benefited from the 1997 bonds, they didn’t rise to the level of being a subsidy without an explicit tax rebate.
“The court is confronted with a narrow question: whether any of the agreements identified by the parties gives the Disney Defendants a right to a rebate of their taxes. Whether the city of Anaheim ‘subsidized’… is not a issue,” Claster wrote. “For the reasons set forth above, the Disney Defendants do not receive a “City Subsidy’ as defined.”
In a statement to Voice of OC, city spokesman Mike Lyster said the parking structure and other investments from the 1997 bonds were a “public-private partnership reflecting mutual interest in Anaheim’s economy.”
“It has been a great return on investment for our city, residents and neighborhoods,” Lyster said. “It validates what we already knew and have said – the city of Anaheim does not provide any rebate or subsidy to Disney.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.