Will hotel and event workers get a $25 minimum wage soon?
Anaheim voters are answering that question by mailing in ballots or casting votes in person up until 8 p.m. Tuesday for a special election against the backdrop of a public corruption scandal at City Hall.
It also comes as hotel workers have been conducting rolling strikes throughout Southern California – where workers picket for a few days, then go back to work as another hotel workforce walks out.
The election stems from a union-backed ballot initiative – Measure A – that would make the minimum wage for hotel and event center workers in Anaheim $25 an hour immediately with a 3% increase annually starting in 2026 – it also calls for increased workplace protections.
It would also require hoteliers to pay maids double if they clean more than 3,500 or 4,000 square feet of rooms in an eight-hour work shift. The square footage threshold varies depending on the overall size of the hotel.
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The election comes after both FBI agents and independent investigators allege Disneyland resort interests – which routinely spend large in local elections – control City Hall.
Both union and resort interests have separately boosted the campaigns of nearly every Anaheim City Council Members’ campaign through independent expenditures on things like political mailers and digital advertising.
But Disney and the resort interests have a far greater spending advantage – backing a majority of current city council members.
Earlier this year, Unite Here Local 11 – a union representing hotel workers in LA and Orange County – garnered more than enough signatures to put the measure before the Anaheim City Council and have them approve it or put the question to voters.
Workers, who have engaged in rolling strikes this summer for better pay, argue the measure will help put food on the table for their families and pay rent amid rising inflation and housing costs.
[Read: The Summer of Strikes]
Anaheim resident Mayra Jimenez Topete, a maid at the local Hilton Hotel for seven years and a single mother, said in a Wednesday interview that Measure A is critical to help working families.
“I do have a lot of family that do housekeeping. It’s really rough. It’s hard work,” Jimenez said, adding her mom was a housekeeper for 30 years making minimum wage.
Jimenez is one of many hotel housekeepers that have been on the picket line demanding better wages to help her pay the bills without having to work multiple jobs – something she has to do.
“When I started at the Hilton, my kids were still minors and I still had to have two to three jobs to get them going,” she said in an interview.
In Anaheim – home to the happiest place on earth – almost half of residents are enrolled in CalOptima, a county administered public health insurance program for Orange County’s poorest residents.
And 13% of the city’s over 344,000 residents live in poverty, according to census data. That’s more than 44,000 residents.
Will it Only Apply to Hotel and Event Workers?
There’s lingering questions over who else Measure A could impact.
“The measure would change the terms and conditions of employment for workers at Anaheim hotels and event centers (publicly or privately owned convention centers, concert halls, stadiums, and sports arenas of over 20,000 square feet) as summarized below,” reads an analysis from Anaheim City Attorney Rob Fabela.
Longtime activist and resident, Jeanine Robbins, said if the effort was simply about wage increases at hotels she’d have probably gotten behind – but she expressed concern that it could impact non-resort businesses.
“When they’re talking about event centers over 20,000 square feet, I mean, that can include everything from Linbrook Bowl to Camelot Golfland up there off the 91 to the Dad Miller Golf Course, Anaheim Hills Golf Course,” Robbins said, adding it could also impact Disney.
“It’s just so vague, it’s so overreaching.”
She also said the boost in income could mean people enrolled in CalOptima wouldn’t qualify for it anymore.
Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11, said in a Thursday phone interview that the measure would increase wages for employees as housing costs continue to soar and keep them safe from sexual assault.
“Many of our members are living in the streets. They’re homeless, or they’re couchsurfing. Or they’re, you know, one paycheck away from being homeless – so this measure will help move people into more sustainable and long term housing,” she said.
When asked about the unintended impacts the measure could have on other businesses, Briceño said “the goal of the union is to cover workers in the hotel industry and event centers.”
Unite Here Local 11 has sponsored the “Yes on Measure A” political action committee which has raised $100,000, according to city campaign finance disclosures.
Local hoteliers and resort interests including the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce – an organization heavily caught up in the corruption scandal – have pushed back against the measure arguing that it would drive up prices and be detrimental to the resort industry’s success.
Greg Eisenman, manager of the Tropicana Inn & Suites, said the hotel’s biggest concerns are the workload restrictions and the owner plans to shut down half the hotel if the measure is passed due to a lack of employees – which would impact the city’s hotel tax revenue.
“That’s one of my major concerns as far as business perspective, I’m also concerned on behalf of the residents of Anaheim and how much money that they’re going to be losing out of the general fund,” he said.
The Tropicana Inn & Suites has given $81,000 to a political action committee against the measure, according to city campaign finance disclosures.
The California Hotel & Lodging Association has sponsored the “No on Measure A” political action committee that has raised close to $3.3 million – about half of which has come from Disney, according to the same finance disclosures.
“No on Measure A” signs can be found scattered throughout Anaheim, and YouTube ads for the campaign routinely play before videos for people living in the city.
Pete Hillan, a spokesman for the California Hotel & Lodging Association, said in a Thursday phone interview that the measure could jeopardize Anaheim’s financial future.
He also said pay raises should be handled between employers and employees, not by the legislative process.
“It only covers one economic sector and that seems disingenuous – at best – for all workers who may need more income to live and work in Anaheim. That should be done as it has been in the past through a minimum wage for all (measure) not just favoritism to one particular union,” Hillan said.
Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento and Congressman Lou Correa have voiced support for the minimum wage increase in recent months.
“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 Sarmiento, at a city council meeting earlier this year.
If approved, the measure would take effect 10 days after the election results are certified.
How Did Measure A Land on a Special Election Ballot?
In June, a majority of city council members voted to have residents decide on the measure in a roughly $1.5 million special election despite concerns that such elections see low voter turnout.
They also voted to have three council members write up arguments against the measure.
It came after a rushed study found that the ordinance would bump up the hotel tax revenue the city collects in the short run, but would suppress revenues in the long run. Another study found the measure would negatively impact Anaheim Convention Center’s finances.
That same night, City council members introduced a separate hotel worker ordinance at the request of City Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava that would create the same workplace protections the union measure would but wouldn’t give workers a $25 minimum wage.
Rubalcava received nearly $380,000 from Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR) – Disney’s chief political spending vehicle in town – leading up to last November’s election.
Now, she’s facing hotel union-backed efforts to start a recall election against her after independent investigators called her out in a 353-page scathing corruption report released at the end of July.
Update: This story was updated to show polls close 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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