Anaheim Minimum Wage Advocates Take Disney To Court

Crowds stream through Disneyland in Anaheim, California, on July 24, 2017. (Daryl Barker/KPCC)

Disney workers in Anaheim are taking their employer to court.

In a new complaint, they say Disneyland and its subcontractors are skirting a minimum wage law approved by Anaheim voters in November 2018.

Labor unions pushed Measure L as a way to force Disneyland and surrounding hotels to pay their workers at least $15 per hour.

But ever since the initiative succeeded, it's been expected to end up in court due to disagreements over whether the measure actually applies to Disneyland.

One of the plaintiffs, Tom Bray, has been a bellman at the Disneyland Hotel for more than 30 years. He and some of his co-workers campaigned for Measure L. After it passed, they were looking forward to a pay raise at the start of 2019.

"We kept looking at our paystub every week for the first month or two," Bray said. "Eventually we figured, OK, they're not going to pay us."

Bray currently earns $12.25 per hour, plus tips. He and four other workers are now suing Disney, seeking back pay for themselves and hundreds of other workers who the plaintiffs say are earning sub-living wages.

'DISNEY GOT A REBATE OF THE BEST KIND'

The minimum wage measure only applies to employers that receive publicly funded subsidies from the city, such as tax rebates.

Disney maintains it is exempt from the measure. And the company notes that Anaheim's own city attorney agrees.

"The union coalition is well aware that the City Attorney has previously looked at this issue and clearly stated that Measure L does not apply to the Disneyland Resort," said Disney spokesperson Liz Jaeger.

Disney forfeited some tax incentives before the measure went to a vote, disentangling itself from agreements that would have made the company a clear target.

But the labor coalition says Disney still receives city subsidies in the form of a bond agreement hatched in the 1990s.

Under that agreement, the city put up municipal bonds to fund a new parking structure near the California Adventure theme park. Disney now operates and receives revenue from that structure. In turn, Disney's taxes will go towards paying off those bonds until 2036.

"Disney got a rebate of the best kind," the complaint alleges. "It got its taxes back before it paid them."

In response to the new complaint, Anaheim city spokesman Mike Lyster said, "We welcome any inquiry about who might fall under Measure L, but, in the case of Disney, our city attorney has already reviewed and found that the public-private expansion of the 1990s does not fall under the initiative's tax rebate language."

The plaintiffs' attorney, Randy Renick, estimates at least 400 workers at the resort are still earning less than the $15 an hour he says the measure requires.

"The language that voters approved was quite clear," Renick said. "They intended that Disney should have to pay its workers a living wage in exchange for having received hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies."

Now, it could be up to a judge to decide who's right.