Anaheim City Council members are looking to study a proposed ordinance raising hospitality workers’ minimum wage to $25 before either sending it to next year’s ballot or outright adopting it. 

Unite Here Local 11, union representing 32,000 hotel workers in Southern California and Arizona, has been leading an effort to get as many cities in Orange County, including Anaheim – home to Disneyland – to adopt an ordinance aimed at providing greater pay and protections for hotel workers.

It comes as the union and resort interests have separately contributed to nearly every city council members’ campaign through independent expenditures on things like political mailers and digital advertising. The resort interests heavily outspent union interests on their preferred candidates. 

“It’s abundantly clear that the people of Anaheim believe in the hospitality workers in this city that they need more protections and a livable wage so they can afford to live in the communities that they work,” Ada Briceño, Co-president of Unite Here 11, said at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Samantha Marquez, Executive Director of the Anaheim Orange County Hotel and Lodging Association, said the proposed ordinance would have unintended consequences.

“Enacting this ordinance’s wage and workplace rules would significantly increase labor costs, leading to potential job losses, business closures and reduce investment in Anaheim’s hotel industry,” she said.

[Read: Anaheim Hotel Maids Are Tired of Rowdy Guests and Low Wages; Will Officials Intervene?]

Rather than adopt the law, city council members voted unanimously Tuesday to conduct a fiscal analysis report on the ordinance –  a study that several local hoteliers and resort interests in Anaheim called for at the meeting.

The decision came on the one year anniversary of revelations of an FBI corruption probe last May and allegations that the resort industry has outsized influence over Anaheim City Hall.

In sworn affidavits last year, federal agents alleged that a small cadre of Disneyland area resort insiders – through the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce – essentially steered Anaheim public policy largely behind closed doors.

The ordinance would impact the same interests called out by the FBI – interests that heavily contributed to some of those council members’ campaigns in last year’s election.

At the meetings, workers urged council members to adopt the ordinance while hoteliers spoke against the ordinance and in favor of a study.

Hotel interests and union workers inside the council chambers on May 16, 2023. Credit: SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

Initially, Mayor Ashleigh Aitken and City Councilman Carlos Leon pushed to adopt Unite Here’s proposed ordinance.

Aitken said there are hotel workers that can’t afford to spend a night in the hotels they clean and that these workers have the hardest jobs.

“I think there’s really something wrong with the system,” she said.

“We are having a mostly female, mostly elderly, mostly immigrant women of color in these job industries and I’m waiting, and I’ve been waiting for decades for the market to correct it. And we just see that that is not happening.”

Aitken said these workers could get paid more at In-n-Out.

Her father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors.

Unite Here gave $100,000 to the Helping Working Families Get Ahead PAC, which helped boost the campaigns of Aitken and Leon.

That political action committee, in turn, spent $138,000 in campaign support for Aitken and around $91,000 in support of Leon’s campaign last year.

Their effort failed to receive support from their colleagues and the two ended up voting in favor of the study.

Earlier this year, workers garnered over 26,000 voter signatures – roughly 10,000 more than the 16,842 signatures needed – to force city officials adopt a hospitality protection ordinance or put the question to voters in the 2024 election.

Councilwoman Natalie Meeks pushed for a fiscal impact analysis of Unite Here’s proposed ordinance.

“We need the facts before we make a decision on where we go from here,” she said. “I feel very strongly that we just don’t have enough information to know what the impacts are going to be to the city without a study.”

Last year, Meeks received nearly $546,000 in campaign support from Disney through a local political action committee – Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR).

Council members Jose Diaz, Stephen Faessel, Norma Campos Kurtz and Natalie Rubalcava also agreed a study was needed to see how the ordinance would impact the city’s budget.

Earlier this year, council members appointed Kurtz, who sat on SOAR’s advisory board, to fill a council vacancy left by Avelino Valencia after he was elected to the State Assembly.

The study needs to be completed in less than a month by the June 13 city council meeting, when officials will have to decide if they’ll adopt the ordinance or send the question to the voters.

City Council to Craft Own Safety Ordinance

That same night, council members unanimously voted to direct staff to craft their own hotel worker safety ordinance at the request of Rubalcava.

She said her grandmother worked at the Sands Motel and the Tropicana and worker safety is paramount.

“We’re here to protect our employees, the people who live and work in the city and it’s happening with us at the table and not to us,” she said.

Rubalcava also received nearly $380,000 in campaign support from SOAR.

Her recommendations focus solely on safety measures for workers and providing panic buttons, but no minimum wage increase or any stipulations addressing mandatory overtime and overtime pay.

The city council voted on Rubalcava’s request before taking up the Unite Here ordinance.

“During the signature gathering time,” Rubalcava said. “I had several individuals come to my front door and mentioned that women are getting raped in our hotels and being abused and I think that it is such a priority for us to make sure that we are protecting the health and safety of the people who are working in the hotels that are in Anaheim.”

Rubalcava didn’t make a request for a safety ordinance until the May 2 council meeting – after union workers garnered the signatures needed to force a council discussion on the issue.

Earlier in the meeting, Rubalcava praised Gloria Alvarado, executive director of the OC Labor Federation.

Alvarado voiced support for Unite Here’s proposed ordinance at a news conference earlier this month.

Caption: Hotel workers from Unit Here Local 11 gather in front of the Anaheim Hilton Hotel on May 3, 2023 as Gloria Alvarado , executive director of the Orange County Labor Federation speaks. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Briceño urged the council not to move forward with Rubalcava’s recommendation.

“It’s really hurtful for Mayor Pro Tem Rubalcava and others to write their own. To think that they know better than the housekeepers who work these jobs day in and day out,” she said.

Hoteliers & Workers Debate Ordinance

For more than three hours, over 60 hoteliers, hotel workers and residents on both sides of the issue came to make their voices heard.

Hotel workers called on the council to adopt Unite Here 11’s ordinance outright. Workers also called on the council not to support Rubalcava’s request for the city to craft its own ordinance.

“I live in the County of Orange and I struggle to pay rent,” said Jimena Baculima, a housekeeper at the Sheraton Hotel, in Spanish.

“As a housekeeper, I must work 17 hours a day to be able to afford an apartment with two bedrooms in Orange County. Aside from this, it has been very difficult to put food on the table for my family.”

Chispa, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit activist group, also supported the union’s proposed ordinance.

Hairo Cortes, executive director of Chispa, said Anaheim hotel workers, like maids, have been struggling for years.

“They have been struggling to pay rent. They’ve been struggling to put food on the table for their families, and they have been struggling to feel safe at the workplace. All while the people at the top have been coddled by city council after city council,” he said.

Representatives from OC Supervisor Vicente Sarimento and Congressman Lou Correa also urged the council to adopt the ordinance.

“The City of Anaheim is a national resort and leader. This success has been possible by the hotel workers ensuring these facilities function,” said Alejandra Colon, who spoke on behalf of Sarimento.

Several hotel owners and managers urged the council to conduct a financial impact analysis on the ordinance and argued the law would be detrimental to the resort industry in Anaheim and hotel profits.

Some spoke on how they and their families have worked hard to establish and maintain their hotels and said the ordinance would harm tax revenue from the hotels to the city.

Derrick Lee, whose family operates the Alpine Inn, said they have worked hard to create jobs and give guests a hospitable experience.

“My father Bill Lee first immigrated to the US with no prior hotel experience but a strong determination to provide a better life for his loved ones. Today we are proud to say that we have grown into a third generation family business,” he said.

Briceño pushed back on the hoteliers and said the workers initially had to wait outside the council chambers to speak while the hotel owners and managers sat inside.

“I’m not here to speak about people who have generational wealth. I’m here to speak about the economic engine of the city, which are the workers,” she said. “It’s very typical in the City of Anaheim for the workers to be on the outside and the hoteliers to be on the inside.” 

“I’m hoping that that will change.”

The Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

In 2018, efforts to increase the minimum wage for workers at resort businesses that receive city subsidies faced pushback from resort interests through the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and its former CEO Todd Ament.

Last year, Ament pleaded guilty to a series of federal fraud charges after FBI agents in written affidavits described Ament as a ringleader of a group of powerful insiders who controlled public affairs and policymaking through elected officials.

His successor, Laura Cunningham, spoke on Tuesday against the initiative and called for a study.

It’s the first time Cunningham has spoken at a public council meeting since revelations of an FBI corruption probe last year.

Unlike every other person who spoke at the meeting, the city’s live stream did not show Cunningham for most of her comments.

“Anaheim voters will be faced with a momentous decision and deserve the opportunity to cast a fully informed vote on this ballot measure,” she said.

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


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