Anaheim hotel workers have been pushing and speaking out for greater pay and protections on the job in a city where FBI agents in sworn affidavits last year accused resort interests of having undue influence over city hall.

These workers have gotten enough signatures to force city council members in Anaheim – home to the Disneyland Resort – to have a public discussion on a proposed ordinance that would mandate a $25 minimum wage and panic buttons for hotel workers.

Tonight, council members are expected to decide at their 5 p.m. meeting if they will adopt that ordinance outright, call for a financial impact analysis or put the question to voters next year.

[Read: Will Anaheim Require Better Pay and Protections for Hotel Housekeepers?]

That meeting will take place on the one year anniversary of a federal affidavit surfacing in which the FBI alleged that a small cadre of Disneyland resort area insiders through the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce essentially steer public policy in Anaheim largely behind closed doors. 

It’s the same interests an ordinance like this could impact.

Interests that routinely spend heavily on elections in Anaheim.

Mayor Ashleigh Aitken and the rest of the city council did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Still, United Here Local 11, ​​a union representing 32,000 hotel workers in Southern California and Arizona, has been leading an effort to get as many cities in Orange County to adopt ordinances granting better pay for workers.

Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, said in a Monday phone interview it’s important for officials to consider the needs of people council members don’t always take into account – the workers. 

“It is imperative for the Council to pass this ordinance outright, especially on the anniversary of what has happened in Anaheim,” she said.

“We’ve seen prior councils for such a long time be beyond generous to the hotel industry to developers to the business interests, while the residents and the workers who make it possible for all those people to be successful, have given their sweat and tears.”

Briceño said that some hotel workers are couchsurfing, living in their cars or are on the brink of homelessness.

“The crisis is now and they need relief,” she said.

Some of those workers are expected to show up to tonight’s city council meeting.

Unite Here Local 11’s efforts to get a hotel worker protection ordinance approved in Laguna Beach overwhelmingly failed at the ballot last year.

But they found success in Irvine – the first city in the county to adopt such an ordinance.

Irvine officials adopted their ordinance after hotel maids spoke out about guests touching them inappropriately, exposing themselves and greater workloads due to the removal of daily room cleaning during the pandemic.

But hoteliers pushed back against the ordinance.

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

They however failed to get enough signatures to put it to a citywide vote.

Pete Hillan, a spokesperson for the California Hotel and Lodging Association, said in a phone interview earlier this month that the association has concerns with the “aggressive” minimum wage increase and said safety measures are already in place for workers.

He called the demand for protections a “false narrative.”

“They wrap the safety measures around what they really want, which is reduced workload and higher income,” Hillan said, adding that many of the hotels in Anaheim are family owned small businesses.

He also said most hotels already have panic buttons and that there are several drills and training sessions for workers.

The association raised similar concerns about the ordinance in Irvine.

Hillan said hotels are paying a fair wage to workers. 

“We understand the issues that many Californians have with housing. And that is an issue for the government to address,” he said. “Hotels didn’t create that situation.”

The hotel association is calling on the city to study the ordinance. 

“Our concern is that if they were to enact this without knowing the economic impact, that it’s going to hurt the very workers that the proponents of it say it’s going to help,” he said.

He added that hotels are still recovering from the pandemic.

However, help for the resort industry during the pandemic came from city officials.

At the start of the pandemic, city council members voted to give $6.5 million to Visit Anaheim to advertise the closed Disneyland resort area.

Briceño said the profit margins of the hotel industry have exceeded the 2019 profit margins.

“They can afford to ensure that people have a roof over their heads,” she said. “They should be embarrassed having a statement such as that one – that it’s not their fault or it’s not their responsibility.”

In Anaheim, union-funded measures aimed at increasing the minimum wage have faced pushback from resort interests before.

In 2018, the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and its former CEO Todd Ament fought against approval of Measure L – an initiative that requires all businesses in the Anaheim Resort receiving a city tax subsidy to pay a minimum wage of $18 an hour by 2022.

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.

The proposed ordinance by Unite Here in Anaheim, would not only boost the minimum wage for hotel and event centers workers but would require hotel owners to pay overtime wages and prohibit mandatory overtime.

It would also require owners to retain most employees for about three months after a change in ownership.

Read the proposed ordinance here.

[Read: The Push For More Hotel Worker Protections and Pay Knocks on Anaheim’s Door]

It’s not the only ordinance in front of Anaheim Council Members tonight.

City Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava has called for the city to come up with its own ordinance regarding hotel worker safety brought forth regardless of the current initiative.

According to a staff report, Rubalcava has recommended that the ordinance mandate panic buttons for workers, that hotels have a response team for when a button is activated, and that workers have three hours of paid time to report the incident to police.

Rubalcava’s recommendations do not include anything regarding an increase of pay for workers or any stipulations on no mandatory overtime or overtime pay.

Read Rubalcava’s recommendations here.

Briceño said she has not been able to sit down with the councilwoman yet.

“This ordinance was written from the experience and the necessities that our housekeepers and workers have,” she said about the Unite Here proposed law. 

Rubalcava received nearly $380,000 in campaign support from Disney through a local political action committee – Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR).

SOAR also poured over $546,000 in campaign support for City Councilwoman Natalie Meeks campaign.

Councilmembers earlier this year also appointed Norma Campos 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.

Meanwhile, Unite Here 11 also spent money in last year’s election.

The union gave $100,000 to the Helping Working Families Get Ahead political action committee, which helped boost the campaigns of Mayor Ashleigh Aitken and Councilman Carlos 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.

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

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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