Above Photo: Hundreds of Disneyland workers came to a town hall sponsored by a coalition of Disney Resort labor unions at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Anaheim on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan/Orange County Register/SCNG)
The Disneyland Resort and any large hospitality business benefiting from Anaheim city subsidies would be required to pay at least $15 an hour to their workers beginning in 2019 under a proposed ballot initiative sponsored by a coalition of unions.
The city ballot initiative — announced to a boisterous, standing-room-only crowd of Disney’s largest unions Wednesday, Feb. 28 at the Anaheim Sheraton Park Hotel — would then raise the minimum wage at the affected companies in $1 increments annually until it reaches $18 an hour by Jan. 1, 2022.
Beginning in 2023, the pay floor for those companies would be adjusted annually by at least 2 percent to reflect cost-of-living increases.
“We are not attacking Disney,” said Christopher Duarte, president and chief executive of Workers United Local 50, the resort’s largest union with 6,700 members. “But if taxpayers are going to subsidize a large corporation, then that corporation should pay a living wage and not contribute to poverty.”
A Disney spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray said she wouldn’t support such a measure, though she hadn’t read the one the unions proposed.
“Government has not been successful in mandating wages, government has not been successful in mandating how people live,” she said. “I don’t see this as a solution.”
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, who has vigorously opposed city subsidies for hotels, stopped short of saying whether he would support the measure. But he said it can be “very challenging and difficult” for Disney workers to live on their wages, and a ballot initiative to raise their pay could help.
“When a company asks for and gets these massive subsidies, they shouldn’t be surprised that their workers respond like this,” Tait said.
The initiative would require 20,000 signatures from registered Anaheim voters by May in order to get on the November ballot. Union officials say they’re confident they’ll get the signatures and that private polling shows the measure would pass.
A 28-year-old Disney fry cook began to cry as she told the gathering Wednesday that she and her husband, also a Disney employee, had to live in their car for several weeks because their wages were not enough to afford rent.
“I love working at Disney because the cast members are my family. I just want Disney to do the right thing,” she said.
The living-wage campaign comes nearly two years after a controversial decision by the Anaheim City Council to grant $550 million in subsidies to Walt Disney Co. and the Wincome Group to build three new luxury hotels. The city also was criticized in 2015 for waiving Disney gate taxes over 30 years in exchange for the company’s pledge to spend $1 billion on new attractions.
Anaheim poverty has surged in recent years as wages have failed to keep pace with the high cost of living in Southern California. Disney is Orange County’s largest employer with 30,000 workers.
A study by Occidental College and the Los Angeles-based Economic Roundtable this week cited census and federal labor data showing the average hourly wage for Disneyland resort workers dropped to $13.36 from $15.80 in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2000 and 2017.
Disney called the study, which was commissioned by a coalition of 11 Disney unions, “inaccurate and unscientific.”
California’s minimum wage, now at $11 an hour for larger companies, is slated to rise to $15 an hour by 2022. Twenty-three cities and counties in the state have passed so-called “living wage” ordinances to raise pay above the state minimum.
The Anaheim measure would be the first in Orange County since 2015, when Irvine repealed the county’s only living wage ordinance. That ordinance required some city contractors to pay slightly more than the state’s then rate of $9 an hour.
Although it would apply to a narrow segment of Orange County’s economy, the Anaheim ordinance, if it passed, would set wages at a higher level than in any California city.
According to Orange County’s Community 2017 Community Indicators Report, issued by government agencies and philanthropic groups, the cost of living is 87 percent higher in Orange County than the U.S. average, 56 percent higher in Los Angeles, and 25 percent higher in the Inland Empire. The report documented what it called “a persistent and growing underclass.”Anaheim is one of the poorest cities in the county, the report noted.
The county’s 2017 Workforce Indicators Report, issued by the Orange County Business Council and the county government, found that Orange County renters making the mean wage of $19.89 an hour would have to work 70 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment.
Duarte said the unions decided to push for a higher living wage after Disney negotiators in Orlando’s Walt Disney World refused to raise wages more than 50 cents an hour in contract talks, and when they held to a 40-cent-an-hour raise for most hotel workers in talks with Anaheim’s Unite Here union.
“We could see the company would not raise its wage offers, so we started looking for another alternative,” he said.
Emotions in the room ran high Wednesday night as union members cheered speakers before the official announcement.
“For years, Disney has said this is what we’re giving you. Take it or leave it,” said Steve Rosen, the West Coast representative for the union representing performers. “Those days are over.”
The crowd stood up and cheered wildly as people shouted “si, se puede,” roughly translated to “yes, we can.”
The ballot initiative could ignite a major political battle in Anaheim if Disney and other companies choose to fight it. Union officials, who honed their grassroots organizing in the recent campaign converting the city to district elections, point out that many Disney workers live in the city.
But Duarte acknowledged, “Disney could outspend us a million to one.”
Tara Quint, 35, is one worker who hopes the unions succeed. A night-shift janitor who has worked for Disney since 2013, Quint said she cannot support her 6-year-old child on a wage of $12.21 an hour.
“I break down and cry,” she said, adding that she is now on food stamps and has gone through periods of sleeping in her car because she could not afford rent.
She recently applied for a night-janitor job at the Anaheim Unified School system that pays $19.23 an hour, but the job went to another worker.
“Why would a huge organization like Disney pay less than public schools?” she wondered.
She was on Disney’s health insurance program, she said, but even with high premiums, the company charged her a co-pay of $250 for asthma medication after cleaning supplies she uses in her job caused a recurrence.
“I loved Disney when I first applied to work there,” she said. “I used to wear my Mouse Ears, but I don’t anymore since I lost the pride I had in working for the company.”