Efforts to bring greater protections and pay for hotel housekeepers are underway in Anaheim – home to the economic powerhouse Disneyland in a city where FBI agents last year alleged the resort industry having outsized influence over local officials.

Unite Here Local 11, a ​​union representing 32,000 hotel workers in Southern California and Arizona, has brought forward a proposed ordinance that would require hotel owners in Anaheim to give maids panic buttons to alert security if they run into hostile and handsy guests.

It would also create a $25 minimum wage for hotel housekeepers.

Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, said in a Wednesday phone interview that when hotel housekeepers came back to work amid the pandemic they were greeted with greater workloads with the removal of daily room cleanings while hotels profited.

“It’s not acceptable for the economic engine of Anaheim to be one paycheck away from homelessness. In other circumstances, couchsurfing, and in many circumstances living in their cars, that’s not acceptable,” she said about the workers.

“We have a public responsibility to ensure that people are getting paid enough to put a roof over their heads and feed their children.”

The Anaheim/Orange County Hotel & Lodging Association did not respond to a voicemail left by the Voice of OC Wednesday.

City spokesman Mike Lyster said in a Wednesday email that “16,842 verified signatures of Anaheim registered voters” are needed to get the proposed ordinance on the 2024 ballot for voter approval.

“Many Anaheim hotels already incorporate safety measures for workers,” Lyster said in a Wednesday email. “It is premature to talk about Council action.”

Unite Here Local 11 announced in a press release this week they got over 25,000 signatures.

“The submitted signatures are undergoing an initial review by our City Clerk then are expected to go to the county Registrar of Voters, which then has 30 days to review signatures,” Lyster wrote.

Ordinances like this have been adopted in Long Beach, Los Angeles and even across the country in Chicago.

In Orange County, Irvine became the first city to adopt an ordinance after local hotel maids spoke out about the harassment they’ve faced on the job including guests exposing themselves to the workers and touching them inappropriately.

[Read: Housekeepers’ Hellish Hotel Horrors: Could A Proposed Irvine Ordinance Protect Maids?]

“It’s easy for the industry to look the other way,” Briceño said. “They have a responsibility to keep their room attendants and  their workers free of harassment.”

The law faced pushback from Irvine hoteliers and the California Hotel and Lodging Association who spent over half a million dollars supporting a voter referendum to overturn Irvine’s ordinance via a ballot referendum.

But they failed to gather enough signatures to put it to a vote. 

[Read: Will Protections for Hotel Workers Stretch to All of Orange County or Die in Irvine?]

In another part of the county, the push for hotel worker protections did not find the same success.

Voters in Laguna Beach overwhelmingly shot down a proposed hospitality workers protection ballot measure in the November election with almost 70% of residents voting against it.

But will these efforts to protect hotel workers and bump up their pay in Anaheim – home to the Disneyland resort which the FBI last year said in sworn affidavits held undue influence over city hall – succeed?

[Read: FBI Reveals What Many Anaheim Residents Felt For Years, City Hall is Run By The Chamber of Commerce]

Kings Inn in Anaheim. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Laura Cunningham, CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Her predecessor, Todd Ament, pleaded guilty to a series of federal fraud charges after the FBI affidavits went public last May. In court filings, federal agents described him as the ringleader of a group of powerful insiders who controlled public affairs and policymaking through elected officials.

In 2018, Ament and the chamber pushed back against union-funded Measure L which requires all businesses in the Anaheim Resort receiving a city tax subsidy to pay a minimum wage of $18 an hour by 2022.

In response to the measure, the Disneyland resort ended up calling on the city to cancel $267 million in tax rebates for a luxury hotel project. 

Anaheim voters ended up adopting the minimum wage initiative in the 2018 election.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim City Council could adopt the hotel worker protections ordinance instead of putting the questions before residents in the 2024 election.

Mayor Ashleigh Aitken did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Her father, Wylie, chairs Voice of OC’s Board of Directors.

Some of the council members have had their campaigns funded by the very resort interests the hotel worker protections and pay increase initiative could affect.

Two of the newly elected city council members, Natalie Meeks and Natalie Rubalcava, received over $900,000 in contributions combined from Disney’s main political spending vehicle in town, Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee, during the 2022 election.

It’s also one of the entities touched on by the FBI.

Meeks’ campaign received over $546,000 from SOAR while Rubalcava received over $379,000 from the political action committee.

The other two, Aitken and Councilman Carlos Leon, received strong support from organized resort area labor receiving over $200,000 in contributions combined from the Helping Working Families Get Ahead political action committee in the 2022 November election.

Unite Here contributed $100,000 to the PAC, which spent over $138,000 supporting Aitken’s campaign and over $87,000 on Leon’s campaign. 

“We’ll be speaking to all city council folks and we expect that they will stand with their community and disenfranchised workers who make the tourism industry thrive in Anaheim,” Briceño said.

“This new council has an opportunity to vote on this and make sure that the injustices that have happened in this city due to corruption and leaving people off the table are partially rectified by voting for this ordinance.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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