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Essay: Decision Time on Anaheim’s Measure L: Disney Exempt?

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Tags: Disney essays

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Jared Burden PSCI-180 Prof. Masud 10/25/2018

Point/Counterpoint on Anaheim’s Measure L

Anaheim’s Measure L is a ballot measure proposed to the citizens of Anaheim to raise the minimum wage for employees of businesses with 25 or more workers from $11 an hour to $15 an hour starting January 1, 2019. Following the initial wage hike minimum wage in Anaheim would then increase one dollar per year until 2022 when the minimum wage would hold at 18 dollars an hour.  

In addition to raising minimum wage, Measure L would prevent employers from offsetting wages with tips. Small business would also be able to apply for an exemption if this Measure would reduce their workforce by 20 percent, or if a business would curtail their employees’ total hours by 30 percent, or if by complying with Measure L would result in the closure of said business.

This measure is supported by the Coalition of Labor Resort Unions and Senator Bernie Sanders who held a rally in Anaheim on June 2, 2018 supporting the increase of a minimum wage increase for Disneyland workers saying: “We are talking about a company that has received huge tax breaks from the tax payers here in Anaheim, but in addition to that, received over $1 billion in tax breaks from Trump's tax giveaway to the wealthy.”  

Opponents to Measure L include The WIncome Group  who have said they will not build a second 4 diamond hotel in Anaheim, and Disney who have been negotiating with Garden Grove for future hotel developments. Opponents to measure L are quoted as saying; “For Anaheim residents, this Measure would mean the loss of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of future revenue to support vital city services. And it proves that proponents of this measure are lying to residents and workers when they claim there is no downside to kicking your biggest investors in the face.”

This ballot measure was initiated by the Coalition of Labor Resort Unions. This coalition is comprised of 11 unions who work in the resort area of Anaheim. They collected the required number of signatures to petition Anaheim’s city council to hold a vote as to whether or not the measure would be included on the November ballot. With a vote of 4-3 the members of Anaheim’s city council voted June 19, 2018 to bring this matter to the voting citizens of Anaheim this November.

This ballot measure was intended to target Anaheim’s largest employer Disneyland. It was sparked by a survey taken in February of this year by a group of Disneyland workers’ unions that found that over 10% of Disney employees had experienced homelessness in the past two years and 75% of workers were unable to cover monthly expenses. Disney rebutted this survey by saying the report was “inaccurate and unscientific.”  

It is important to point out that this ballot measure was intended to directly target Disneyland by those who feel they are being under paid. It is also important to point out that the only employers that would be required to pay their workers the increased minimum wage are those that receive tax subsidies from the city of Anaheim.  

This summer Disneyland made a calculated decision to remove themselves from being covered under Measure L if it were to pass; they asked Anaheim to dissolve two previous agreements that gave Disney tax subsidies. The first agreement was made in 2016 and gave Disneyland $267 million in tax reimbursements if they agreed to build a luxury hotel on Disney property. The second agreement was that Anaheim wouldn’t collect adopt any entertainment taxes for 30 years if Disney invested $1 Billion in the resort, the new Star Wars expansion in Disneyland meets the later requirement and Disney had already closed multiple restaurants in Downtown Disney to make room for the new luxury hotel.  

Supporters of Measure L cited a 40-year construction bond issued to Disney for the building of the massive 6 story parking garage at the resort as reason to include Disneyland in the group of employers that would be subject to Measure L. However, Anaheim city attorney Robert Fabela has determined that the construction bond does not fall into the same category as a tax subsidy and therefore Disneyland would remain exempt from Measure L.   The decision of Fabela has not deterred the supporters of the ballot initiative to pursue other options to make sure that Disney is not exempt from the “living wage measure.” Attorney Richard McCracken, who worked with the labor unions to draft the ballot measure, has said that if the voters pass Measure L he will pursue litigation on the bond issue.

The reason this measure is on the Anaheim ballot in November is very clear: Disneyland workers feel that a multi-billion-dollar entertainment juggernaut should be required to pay its employees a higher wage. Fortunately for these workers they belong to a union and were able to collect the necessary signatures to get a potentially life changing measure on the ballot.  Unfortunately for Disney workers it seems as if their hard work to affect change has been for nothing now that Disney is deemed as exempt from being covered under this measure.

It isn’t difficult to see that the opponents of this measure are multi-national luxury hotel chains, specifically the Wincome Group and JW Marriot Inc. These companies have already broken ground on luxury hotels in the Anaheim resort district under contracts and agreements made years ago only to be confronted with a “job killer” initiative. As a direct result of this measure 2 luxury hotels have been pulled from development by their owners at an estimated cost to the city of Anaheim of $10 million annually.  

Disneyland has always been, and will always be a polarizing force in Anaheim. The 2016 election saw Anaheim’s city council flip from 7-2 in favor of Disney to 4-3 against, this change in council seats reflected the change in public opinion towards the entertainment company and Disney can feel the pressure. They have recently agreed to a wage increase to $15 an hour for 9,700 of their 30,000 employees starting January 1st. 2019.

The proponents for the measure tout workers in Disney uniforms and say that Disney will be included in the measure because of subsidies that last until 2037. (referring to the 40-year bond) Opponents say that the ballot initiative will only help approximately 150 Anaheim residents and will cost over 3000 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars.  There is no clear-cut favorite or winner on Measure L. When you drive through the neighborhoods in the city both sides are represented equally on residents’ front lawn and when you stand in line waiting for your grandé vanilla cold brew people are discussing the matter all around you. This is a hot topic in Anaheim that has not affected Disney at all in the way the supporters of Measure L had hoped; but it is a measure that, if it does pass, will affect the citizens of Anaheim for potentially decades to come.


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