Disney not subject to Anaheim ‘living wage’ ballot measure, rules rules

Disneyland and its contractors are not required to follow the guidelines of a 2018 ballot measure that would have raised workers’ wages to at least $18 by 2022, a judge has ruled.

Amid public lobbying for higher wages and better employee benefits, Disneyland resort-area workers and the unions that represent them backed an initiative requiring all businesses that receive Anaheim grants to raise wages at least $15 an hour in 2019, with annual increases of $1 by 2022 and cost-of-living bumps after that; Anaheim voters approved the measure in November 2018.

the workers sued in 2019claiming that the new rules applied to Disney, but that he had not followed them.

In an Oct. 29 decision that became final this week, Orange County Superior Court Judge William D. Claster said that while Disney benefits from 1996 agreements with Anaheim that use hotel taxes to pay debt of a parking structure for Disneyland visitors, these agreements do not constitute a tax rebate or subsidy as described in the extent of the ballot.

Randy Renick, an attorney for the workers, said Wednesday they would likely appeal the decision.

“Certainly the judge’s hyper-technical ruling is contrary to the intent of Anaheim voters to pass living wage (measure) in 2018,” Renick said.

Renick said he was “shameful” that Disney received millions of dollars in benefits at the expense of the city, but still can “refuse to this day to pay tens of thousands of its workers a living wage “.

Through a spokeswoman, Disney emailed a statement saying, “We have always been committed to providing fair and equitable compensation to our actors, but we have always stood by the Anaheim City Attorney’s conclusion that Measure L does not apply at Disneyland Resort. We are pleased that the court has upheld this position.

Wages

Around the time he announced the ballot measure in early 2018, a coalition of unions representing employees at Disneyland parks, resort hotels and related hospitality businesses released a study they had commissioned that found that many many workers struggled to pay for basic necessities such as food and medical expenses. , and some reported living in cars or being homeless.

At the time, Disney officials criticized the study as unscientific and politically motivated, but in June announced new contracts with more than 8,000 workers who raise wages to $15 an hour by 2019, three years ahead of the state. A few months later, the company struck a deal that brought most hotel employees to at least $15 and gave them bonuses.

California’s minimum wage for large corporations is now $14 an hour and is expected to increase by $1 in January.

Disneyland is Orange County’s largest employer, with 32,000 pre-pandemic employees; by the end of October, the company had repatriated nearly 80% of its workforce.

A 2021 Disneyland job fact sheet notes that the company offers “a starting salary that exceeds the California minimum wage,” and it touts childcare assistance and a $150 million program. dollars that covers tuition for workers seeking a high school diploma, college degree or vocational training.

Development

The question of whether Anaheim should offer subsidies to businesses in the resort area has been a source of contention in recent years, particularly since 2015, when the city proposed to let hotel developers keep 70% of hotel room taxes. customers for 20 years to help encourage the construction of luxury housing, a void Anaheim leaders saw in the local tourist market.

Proponents say the grants are a partnership that helps raise tax revenue to pay for city services and programs, but critics say they’re a giveaway to wealthy corporations spending money to influence elections local.

Shortly before the 2018 salary measure was passed, Disney officials had ostensibly canceled tax incentive agreements toward building a high-end hotel, which also meant the city didn’t add an entrance tax for decades.

The lawsuit hinged on agreements made by Anaheim and Disney in 1996 that built the Mickey & Friends parking structure and made other improvements to the resort area.

The city’s public finance authority borrowed money to make the improvements, and since then some of the hotel taxes paid by visitors to the resort have been diverted to pay off the debt. This money would otherwise have gone to the city’s general fund to pay for police, parks, street improvements, and other services.

In his decision, Judge Claster notes that no one disputes whether Disney benefited from the 1996 town agreements (the company paid $1 a year to use the parking structure and will own it once the debt is paid off around 2036), but the costume seems to come down to semantics.

the the measure of the poll defines a subsidy as an agreement in which a business or other party is “entitled to receive a refund” of various types of taxes, including hotel tax and sales tax. Claster concluded that, although the complicated structure of the agreements provides for reimbursement to Disney under certain conditions, the plaintiffs have not demonstrated that Disney had its taxes reduced or reimbursed.

Anaheim was not a party to the lawsuit over the ballot measure, but spokesman Mike Lyster said in a statement Wednesday, “While we never want to see a dispute like this play out in court, we appreciate the judge’s determination. This validates what we already knew and said – the City of Anaheim does not provide any rebates or subsidies to Disney.

He added that the deals at issue in the lawsuit were part of a $1.9 billion investment in the resort area that continues to pay dividends to the community.

“The expansion was a public-private partnership reflecting shared interests in Anaheim’s visitor economy,” Lyster said. “It has been a great return on investment for our city, our residents and our neighborhoods.

“Since the 1990s expansion, Anaheim hotel revenue has more than tripled to a pre-pandemic high of $163 million in 2019. That money has gone to public safety, community centers, libraries , parks and compliance with the city’s obligations.”

Michael A. Bynum