Anaheim's Disney Living Wage Measure Is Pitting Union Against Union

A bus that shuttles Anaheim visitors to and from Disneyland is seen in this photo taken July 25, 2014.

If you're a voter in Anaheim who usually looks to organized labor for guidance on how to vote — don't expect a clear answer on a key ballot measure this November. Different unions are lining up on opposite sides of a local initiative designed to raise wages for workers in and around Disneyland.

Let's take a look at why unions aren't united behind a measure to raise wages.

Measure L would establish a minimum wage of $15 per hour starting next year (with $1 annual bumps leading to an $18 hourly wage in 2022). But — and this is a major but — it would only apply to Anaheim employers that benefit from city subsidies.

"It's heartbreaking to sit in front of your members and have to explain to them how, although this sounds really nice, it excludes you," said Teamsters political coordinator Norma Lopez.

That's because while Teamsters in Anaheim drive buses that shuttle visitors between hotels and Disneyland, Lopez says they're not directly employed by any company receiving city tax breaks.

"We're not against a living wage, by any means," said Lopez. "But this living wage doesn't go far enough."

THE MEASURE'S ORIGIN

Measure L was put on the ballot by unions representing theme park and hotel workers. They say Disneyland and hotels surrounding the park pay poverty wages, forcing some of their workers into homelessness.

They argue that companies getting lucrative tax breaks from the city should be required to pay their workers more.

OPPOSITION

The Teamsters say the measure doesn't go far enough.

Other unions don't like the proposal at all. Building trade unions in Anaheim say Measure L would dry up the kind of projects they need to keep their workers on the job. If developers can't rely on city tax incentives, their thinking goes, they'll pass over Anaheim — and thousands of hotel construction jobs will be lost.

These fears aren't just hypothetical.

Earlier this month, Disney announced it was canceling plans to build a 700-room luxury hotel. The decision came after the project's location was moved, and Disney lost a local tax rebate that would have saved the company $267 million over two decades.

The Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trade Council is lining up to oppose Measure L, along with unions for electrical workers, brick and tile layers, sheetmetal workers and iron workers.

SUPPORTERS

On the other side, support for Measure L is coming from unions representing hotel and resort workers as well as the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Negotiations with Disney have already led to a $15 minimum wage for about 10,000 employees starting next year. But the park has about 30,000 employees in total. And the ballot measure calls for higher wages in years to come.

A survey of Disney workers earlier this year found the average hourly wage at the park in 2017 was $13.36. Close to 75 percent of workers said that wasn't enough to cover their basic monthly expenses.

THE BACKSTORY

UCLA labor historian Tobias Higbie said the dispute highlights questions surrounding development and how it benefits workers. Building trades get work when buildings are being built — but hotel workers' unions want to make sure those developments come with good-paying jobs for their members.

"The labor movement isn't monolithic," said Higbie. "And at this particular juncture, apparently these unions see themselves as having different interests."

Complicating things even further, Anaheim's city attorney has said Measure L does not even apply to Disneyland, which recently gave up gave up two lucrative tax deals (more on that here).

The city has said future workers at four hotel projects currently underway in Anaheim would be covered.

Proponents of Measure L have raised more than $1 million, with the largest chunk of funding coming from Unite Here Local 11, a union representing hotel workers. A spokeswoman for Unite Here declined to comment for this story.

Funding to defeat the initiative has come from hotel companies and Disney itself, which has donated more than $300,000 to an Anaheim Chamber of Commerce-led campaign committee. Disney has also contributed more than $600,000 to candidates running for a seat on Anaheim's city council.


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