As Anaheim leaders argued the detrimental impacts of a hotel worker wage increase last week, they may have drawn another picture entirely:

At least one in three city employees in Anaheim make less than $25 an hour, according to public statements from the city finance director.

If you live alone, that kind of pay qualifies you for subsidized housing.

It’s a window into the rising cost of living in Orange County. 

One that even touches those in the halls of local government.

And the gap in salaries. 

[Read: Will OC’s Homeless Prevention Workers Need Homeless Services Themselves?]

The picture revealed itself at the City Council’s regular June 13 meeting, where Anaheim council members voted to let voters decide in a special election whether hotel workers’ wages would rise to a minimum of $25 an hour.

Hotel workers say it would allow them to afford the increasing rental rates in Southern California. 

A majority of council members in Anaheim, along with hoteliers, have called it a job killer.

And last Tuesday night, council members had taken in two presentations from two consultants about how the union-driven wage increase initiative would “diminish employee motivation and morale” and “create a sense of unfairness” at resort fixtures like the convention center.

Not to mention at City Hall, where council members and staff voiced concern about how the wage increase would “permeate” the ranks of their own organization.

Then came the question from council member Norma Campos Kurtz:

“With these city employees potentially earning $25 an hour, do we have other city employees that are making less than that?”

City Hall Finance Director Debbie Moreno responded to Kurtz as if she herself had already considered the very same question, acknowledging her office looked at “all of our positions in the city.”

“If you looked at the number of people that were below $25, that’s roughly a third of the organization. If you look at under $30, that’s going to be closer to 41% of the organization,” Moreno said.

“We’re talking about ambulance operators, we’re talking about library workers, office specialists, permit technicians, police records specialists,” Moreno later added.

According to state income limits for housing assistance, $25 an hour in yearly salary is considered “very low income” if you live alone in Orange County.

And it qualifies you for housing assistance.

So how many of Anaheim’s employees qualify? 

City spokesperson Erin Ryan couldn’t say — only that the city didn’t track that kind of information.

Ryan said figuring out who’s eligible for housing assistance depends on a variety of factors that are different for every employee, such as how many other people are in their household and whether they’re also earning income. 

But she stressed city employees who make under $25 are “typically working part time while in school and living with family, at early stages in their work lives and living with roommates, or older workers in positions that offer the flexibility and fulfillment they want.”

She said “every Anaheim job comes with the chance to advance and grow.”

“For those early in their working lives, we offer job experience and pathways for career growth and development. Qualified part-time employees can also receive city health benefits,” Ryan said. “Our workforce includes many who joined as part-time or entry-level and now play leading roles across our city.”

Based on the median income in Orange County, a person who makes roughly $80,000 a year and lives alone is considered “low income,” according to income limits set by the state Housing and Community Development agency

A person who makes $50,000 a year is considered “very low income.”

But that’s not what council members and staff voiced concern about last Tuesday.

“That’s going to permeate the entire organization and set expectations, I think, that there should be increased wages,” Moreno said.

Councilmember Jose Diaz agreed.

“Let’s say a park ranger, public works maintenance worker, office assistant now would like to also get paid $25 an hour, but wait, it’s not there,” said council member Jose Diaz during the discussion. 

With inflation, Diaz said “that would put even more and more pressure on the city general fund.” 

City-hired consultants estimated that the wage initiative, if approved by voters, would result in a 19% increase in labor costs for the Anaheim Convention Center.

“We already saw what the impacts to the convention center would be and they have about half the number of employees the general fund would have, so their labor impacts of $5-6 million now doubles when it comes to the general fund,” Moreno said.

She added that “our best estimate at this point is, the general fund impact would be twice the convention center.”

In numbers: “Between $11-12 million dollars in today’s wages (impacting) the general fund.”

Council members had no questions after that. 

The leader of the union which spearheaded the hotel worker wage increase, however, still does.

“If city employees can’t make it, then what does that mean for hotel workers?” said Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11 that represents scores of Disneyland-area resort workers.

Briceño likened the worker and economic landscape to “one organism, or whatever you might call it.”

“What you end up living and experiencing, the people around you will, too. And if we allow it, and it’s fine for you, then it’ll be fine for everyone,” she said.

“And look where we’re at.”

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