Officials in Anaheim – home of the Disneyland resort – could decide this month on adopting an ordinance aimed at providing hotel workers with better pay and workplace protections, or put the question to city voters.

United Here Local 11, ​​a union representing 32,000 hotel workers in Southern California and Arizona, is leading an effort to get as many OC cities to require hoteliers to give maids $25 in minimum hourly pay and install panic buttons to alert security if they run into trouble on the job.

But will local officials vote for such an ordinance in a city that was rocked by an explosive FBI corruption probe last May in which federal agents alleged city hall was controlled by the very resort interests the proposed ordinance could impact? 

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

The proposed ordinance could also impact the same resort interests that historically help fund many city council campaigns. 

In Anaheim, workers have garnered over 26,000 voter signatures – roughly 10,000 more than the 16,842 signatures needed – to get a hospitality protection ordinance on the ballot. 

Council members can either adopt the union’s proposed ordinance or send it to the 2024 ballot for city voter approval.

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

Caption: Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, during the May 3, 2023 press conference outside the Anaheim Hilton Hotel. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

In a Wednesday interview, Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, said hotel workers are struggling – some even couch surfing and others working multiple jobs to keep up with rising rents while hotel profits increase.

She said the situation for hotel workers has gotten so bad, they hit the streets to talk to voters and gather signatures for the proposed ordinance. 

“At the end of the day, the tourism industry workers play a part to bring in (hotel tax revenue) to Anaheim,” Briceño said.

Officials from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and the Anaheim/Orange County Hotel & Lodging Association did not respond to request for comment on Wednesday.

A Competing Ordinance? 

One councilwoman could be floating the idea of her own hotel worker protection ordinance.  

At Tuesday’s meeting, Anaheim City Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava said her grandmother was a motel worker and that she’d like an ordinance regarding hotel worker safety brought forth sooner than later regardless of the current initiative.

“If you could come back with an ordinance that our attorneys are writing that we can review as a council and then potentially consider,” she said at the meeting.

Rubalcava also received nearly $380,000 in campaign support from Disney through a local political action committee.

Briceño told a reporter she didn’t know Rubalcava called for such an ordinance at this week’s meeting despite being in communication with her.

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

Unite Here also boosted some council members’ campaigns through political action committee spending. 

The union gave $100,000 to the Helping Working Families Get Ahead PAC, which helped boost the campaigns of Aitken and Councilman Carlos Leon. 

The PAC spent $138,000 supporting Aitken’s campaign during last year’s election, paying for things like political mailers. Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors. 

Leon’s campaign also received around $91,000 in similar support.

The signatures for the proposed ballot measure came after hotel maids in Orange County have spoken out about guests touching them inappropriately, exposing themselves and greater workloads due to the removal of daily room cleaning during the pandemic.

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

Workers Demand Pay Increases, Safer Conditions

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

On Wednesday, outside the Hilton Hotel in the heart of Anaheim’s resort industry, over 40 hotel workers gathered for a news conference with signs demanding greater hotel protections from sexual assault, pay raises and reasonable workloads.

Two hotel workers in Anaheim spoke at a Wednesday afternoon news conference outside the Hilton, including Irayda Torres – a 33-year employee of the hotel.

“For all the hard labor of hospitality workers, we are left with wages that don’t account for the rising costs of living,” Torres said in Spanish. “I need a livable wage to pay my rent and to feed myself and my household.”

“Something as small as paying for our dog Snoopy’s food can be a challenge.”

Housekeepers showed a reporter images and videos of the rooms they said they had to clean that showed hotel rooms littered with clothes and trash over almost every inch of the quarters.

Tereza Garcia Sharon, a housekeeper at the Sheraton Park Hotel, also called on the city council to adopt the ordinance.

“I want Anaheim to know that no one should have to struggle to survive, especially when we work as hard as we do,” she said in Spanish.

County Supervisor Vicente Sarimento speaks at Unite Here 11’s May 3, 2023 news conference Credit: HOSAM ELATTAR, Voice of OC

Orange County Supervisor Vicente Sarimento said at Wednesday’s news conference that his mother was a domestic worker and credited workers for the success of the hotel industry in Anaheim.

“They are the ones that make this function,” he said.

Briceño urged the city council to adopt their ordinance outright and not wait another year.

What Will Council Members Do? 

Anaheim City Council members could decide on moving to adopt the ordinance at their meeting on May 16, according to a Wednesday email from city spokesman Mike Lyster.

“The Council has the option of adopting an ordinance as proposed and presented by the proponents, not adopting and forwarding to voters to decide in either March 2024 or November 2024,” he wrote. 

Lyster added council members could also request a fiscal impact analysis on the measure before taking action, but they must decide on adopting the ordinance or leaving it to voters by their June 13 meeting.

“What direction is taken will be up to the Council,” Lyster wrote. “Many hotels in Anaheim already provide significant safety measures for their employees.”

Rubalcava and other council members have had their campaigns boosted by the same resort interests the protections and pay initiative could affect.

City Councilwoman Natalie Meeks received over $546,000 in campaign support from Disney’s main political spending vehicle, the Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee, in the 2022 election.

Rubalcava received over $379,000 in campaign support from the political action committee to pay for things like political mailers and digital advertising.

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

Ordinances like the one Unite Here is pushing for in Anaheim have been implemented in places like Long Beach, West Hollywood, Los Angeles and even across the country in Chicago.

Irvine was the first city in Orange County to implement a similar ordinance last year while voters in Laguna Beach overwhelmingly shot down a hotel workers protection ballot measure in the November election.

Implementing the ordinance in Irvine didn’t happen without pushback.

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.

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

In Anaheim, union-funded measures to increase minimum wage have faced pushback from resort interests before.

In 2018, the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and its former CEO Todd Ament pushed back on 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.

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

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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