A ballot measure that would raise the minimum wage for hotel and event center workers to $25 an hour in Anaheim – home to the Disneyland resort – looks to be heading for defeat.
Hoteliers say the results are showing Anaheim voters realized the minimum wage measure would hurt the local economy.
But union officials say they were far outspent and faced the disadvantage of low voter turnout in a special election.
Out of 34,893 votes counted by the OC Registrar of Voters as of Monday, about 66% of voters were against the pay hike known as Measure A and about 34% were in favor of it.
A little over 21% of city voters cast a ballot as of Monday, according to the Registrar. Anaheim’s home to more than 168,000 registered voters. The polls closed Oct. 3.
There are still 562 ballots left to process and results have not been certified yet, according to the Registrar of Voters.
In last year’s elections, a little over 43% of voters casted a ballot in the citywide mayor’s race.
In an email Friday, Registrar of Voters Bob Page said ballots still being processed have been “challenged for a signature issue.”
“We have sent a notification to these voters by first-class mail and are giving the voters an opportunity to cure their challenged ballot,” Page wrote.
The results are coming in after city council members – a majority of whom were backed by resort interests in their campaigns – put the question before voters in a special election despite concerns by workers that such elections see low voter turnout.
Resort-backed politicians who supported the roughly $1.5 million special election said it would allow residents to focus on a singular issue.
Pete Hillan, a spokesman for the California Hotel & Lodging Association and opponent to the measure, pushed back on the notion the measure failed due to low voter turnout.
“They brought the initiative, the No on Measure A coalition reacted and if they couldn’t fulfill their commitment to those signatures that’s their issue,” Hillan said in a Thursday phone call. “68% of voters in the credible election said go away now.”
Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11 – the union representing hotel workers in Southern California that brought forth the measure – said the rushed timeline for the election by the city as well as low voter turnout tanked the initiative.
“They wanted this result,” she said in a Thursday phone interview. “Had it been democratic and more voters would have been able to engage, this ballot measure would have passed.”
There was a far greater voter turnout in the 2018 November election when Measure L was on the ballot, which voters adopted – forcing businesses receiving city subsidies to pay higher wages.
In that election, roughly 83,500 voters casted a ballot deciding the measure, which passed 54% to roughly 46%. A little over 63% of voters casted a ballot on Measure L.
Workers and Unite Here argued the hotel and event center worker pay increase would have helped them avoid being homeless and help put food on the table for their families.
Hoteliers and resort interests have pushed back against the measure arguing that it would drive up prices, be detrimental to the resort industry’s success and impact the city’s hotel tax revenue.
Hillain said that the results send a clear message that these types of initiatives won’t fly in Anaheim.
“Anaheim voters are smart and they saw through what was a very selfish agenda that was going to be injurious to the city,” He said “What it did was try to set aside and almost punish the city and by extension, small and family businesses for a singular agenda that wasn’t really about the city.”
The “No on Measure A” political action committee sponsored by the California Hotel & Lodging Association raised close to $3.3 million.
About half of that money came from Disney, according to city campaign finance disclosures filed in September.
The committee spent over $2.9 million against the measure.
Unite Here sponsored two “Yes on Measure A” political action committees and raised over $455,800 combined according to city finance disclosures filed in September.
The two committees spent nearly $1 million in support of the measure.
Unite Here sponsored the “Yes on Measure A” political action committee and raised about $100,000, according to the same disclosures.
Resort interests and allied politicians have stood against minimum wage initiatives in the past – in a city where about half of residents are enrolled in a public health insurance plan for OC’s poorest and where tens of thousands of people live in poverty.
In 2018, they used similar arguments against Measure L – the minimum wage initiative applied to resort businesses receiving city subsidies opposed by resort interests.
Since Measure A landed on the ballot, the union has knocked on 80,000 doors to gather support, according to a Unite Here Oct. 3 news release.
“Measure A is much needed in Anaheim,” Briceño said. “We feel proud of the work that our members, dishwashers, cooks, and room attendants did to get out the vote, but the cards were stacked against us.”
Had it passed, the measure would have required 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.
It would also have required greater workplace protections for workers and mandated a 3% annual pay increase for hotel and event center employees starting in 2026.
The election took place after both independent investigators and the FBI concluded resort interests through the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce essentially control city hall and policy making.
Interests Measure A would have directly impacted.
It also comes as hotel workers across Orange County and Los Angeles have been demanding better pay and engaging in rolling strikes – where staff at some hotels walk out and then return to work as other workforces at different hotels hit the picket line.
Prior to the strikes, the union gathered more than enough signatures to put the wage increase initiative before the city council.
The council this summer sent the ballot to a special October election with resort backed politicians like Councilwoman Natalie Meeks speaking out against the measure and signing onto a ballot argument against the measure.
Both the union and resort interests have separately boosted the campaigns of nearly every Anaheim City Council Members’ campaign through independent expenditures – spending on things like political mailers and digital advertising.
But resort interests have spent a far lot more on their preferred candidates – who hold a majority on the city council.
Last year, Meeks received nearly $546,000 in campaign support from Disney through a local political action committee – Support Our Anaheim Resort – the most of any council member.
Mayor Ashleigh Aitken, who pushed for Measure A to be put on the November 2024 ballot so there could be greater voter participation, had her campaign boosted by $138,000 from the Helping Working Families Get Ahead PAC last year.
Unite Here spent $100,000 on that PAC.
Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors.
This article was updated to include the second Unite Here political action committee in the campaign’s overall spending.
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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