The latest on UniteHERE’s $25 per hour minimum wage ordinance for hotel workers.

Well, UNITE-HERE Local 11, the hotel workers’ union run by DPOC chief Ada Briceño, really reached for the moon this time, with their “Hotel and Event Center Worker Protection, Retention and Minimum Wage” initiative planned for the November 2024 ballot. Will Anaheim’s people support a 60% wage hike to $25 an hour for these vital workers who’ve been generally making $17? We’ll see in a year and a half.

Last night the Council had three choices – 1) immediately adopt this initiative as an ordinance; 2) immediately vote to put it on next year’s ballot (which they’ll have to eventually do anyway) or 3) FIRST commission an “economic impact study” of what’s likely to happen if the initiative goes through. The two Council Democrats, Mayor Ashleigh and Councilman Carlos, supported option 1 but were predictably outvoted by the five Disney/SOAR councilmembers. After that the option of the economic impact study passed unanimously.

There is a lot more in this initiative than just the wage hike to $25 an hour (with of course yearly cost-of-living increases.) There are 14 pages of complex, nearly incomprehensible workplace rules – as far as we can tell, a worker who has to work on two different floors has to get DOUBLE time – $50 an hour! And much more. There’s a stipulation that workers need to be retained 90 days after a hotel changes owners, which sounds reasonable. And most notably there’s a worker safety provision for maids to have panic buttons for when they feel threatened by a patron.

This last feature was the union’s biggest selling point for the whole package. Over the months of signature gathering we were approached half a dozen times and that’s usually what the gatherer led with – “maids are being assaulted, maids are being raped, they need panic buttons!” Did this come back to bite them in the butt or what?

Rubalcava takes the frosting off the union’s Cupcake.

The diabolically clever, Disney-funded Mayor Pro Tem Natalie Rubalcava pulled a fast one with her Item #18. Telling us her mother used to work as a maid at the Tropicana, and professing grave concern for the ladies signature-gatherers had told her were being “raped,” she took that panic-button issue and made it a stand-alone item, which, naturally, passed unanimously.

If it is true that these female workers are endangered like that, then it makes no sense to wait 18 months until this initiative gets passed (or not) to offer them this minimal protection. Really, who could vote against it? And nobody did. (And reportedly, most hotels were already beginning to initiate that reform, so no skin off their backs.)

But it also robbed the union of the least controversial, most sympathetic part of their ordinance – what are they going to call it now, with the “worker protection” part already taken care of? I have to say, TWO things were shocking in connection with this – and what do you think is more shocking?

1) Ada urging Council to vote AGAINST Item 18 (and what? Keep maids endangered until November of 2024?)

or 2) the Oh-So-Concerned Natalie not taking immediate action when she’d heard about all these endangered maids many months ago, but just waiting till NOW, when the initiative was on the table, to do something about it?

I report, you decide…

The Controversial Clause 6.100.140

This clause, buried near the end of the 14-page initiative, has been characterized by Matt Cunningham as allowing any hotel whose workers unionize to ignore the rest of this initiative – hence, a way to strongarm hotels to allow their workers to join UNITE-HERE. (We learned recently that only five of Anaheim’s 120+ hotels are unionized.)

Here’s the clause in question, it’s short:


“The provisions of sections 6.100.040 through 6.100.080 of this chapter, or any part thereof, may be waived pursuant to a bona fide collective bargaining agreement, but only if the waiver is set forth in clear and unambiguous written terms. Neither party to a collective bargaining agreement may waive or superseded any provision of this chapter by means of unilaterally imposed terms and conditions of employment.”

In fact not only Cunningham but many other observers, including apparently most of the council, interpreted this clause that way – any hotel that unionizes most of their workers with UNITE-HERE won’t have to follow most of this ordinance.

But not so fast, interjected our City Attorney Rob Fabela – that is NOT what it says, not exactly. Even with a collective bargaining agreement, BOTH parties – management and workers – would have to AGREE on any provision of the ordinance being “waived” or “superseded.” That’s a little different, that’s what Rob saw in that clause, and I think he’s right… AND he even double-checked with the union’s lawyer who agreed.

So, there’s that. Half the city again misled by Cunningham’s propaganda.

So, expect an “Economic Impact Report” by June 13.

Yeah that’s not much time, but due to some arbitrary California law regarding initiatives, it has to be done by then. We tend to have cynical expectations of such studies, created by consultants aware of who’s buttering their bread. Staff had already looked around for firms that would do it, and, in their telling, no reputable firm would perform such a study in such a rush… except for two who are going to split the work – something like Baker and Beacon, I’ll check.

Remember these firms are chosen by the same staff we’ve had for years, who now answer to a 5-2 Disney/SOAR-backed Council. We expect them to focus on the burdens the initiative will put on the industry and how that could affect the city; we don’t expect them to factor in the positive impacts on the workers, their purchasing power, their being able to stay in Anaheim and contribute to our tax base, etc…. But we shall see!

We want the best for our hard-pressed hotel workers.

But will Anaheim’s voters pass this $25 an hour initiative, now stripped of its “worker protection” component, guaranteed to be attacked mercilessly by SOAR and the hotel industry, and probably hobbled by a harsh economic impact report? I hope so.

Would a compromise initiative at $20 or $21, with cost of living increases, and some of the workplace rules simplified, stand a better chance of passing and improving workers’ lot?

And where do we find the money and manpower to qualify initiatives for:

  • A Gate Tax;
  • Campaign Finance Reform;
  • and A Living Wage for ALL Anaheim Workers?

I ask, you weigh in. Vern out.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.