An initiative to raise the minimum wage at Disneyland to $18 an hour has obtained enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, the city of Anaheim, Calif., said on Thursday.
The initiative is part of a union-led campaign to focus attention on low-wage workers at the Disney theme park. On Thursday morning, a group of Disneyland employees marched to the park entrance to demand better salaries and working conditions under a new contract. Earlier this month, Senator Bernie Sanders headlined a rally in Anaheim at which he slammed Disney’s “greed” for allowing its workers to live in poverty.
“I lived in my car for three months when I first started,” said Emily Bertola, who makes $11 an hour embroidering hats on Main Street, in an interview Thursday. “I was barely getting any hours, and our schedules are so sporadic from week to week that it made it hard to find a job elsewhere.”
Disney recently offered to increase minimum wages for 9,500 employees to $15 by 2020. The statewide minimum wage is set to reach that level in 2022.
“We currently are negotiating one of the largest union contracts at Disneyland Resort, with an offer that increases starting wages by 36% over three years, paying $15 an hour by 2020 — two years ahead of California’s minimum wage,” Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown said in a statement. “In addition, we are launching an education program that will help hourly cast members pursue skills and degrees to further their careers. We are proud of our commitment to our cast, and the fact that more people choose to work at Disneyland Resort than anywhere else in Orange County.”
Disneyland is the largest employer in Anaheim, with some 30,000 employees. Some workers argue that the company’s offer helps entry-level workers but does nothing for longer-term employees. They say that the park experiences high rates of turnover, as employees are not expected to last more than a few years.
“Their message to us is, ‘If you can’t live off what we’re paying you, go find another job,” said Denise Anderson, a costumer who has worked at the park for 30 years, and makes $18 an hour. “They think there’s a line of people that want to work at Disneyland.”
If approved by city voters, the ballot initiative would increase the minimum wage at Disneyland and nearby hotels that receive city subsidies. The minimum wage, currently $11 an hour, would jump to $15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019, and increase in $1 increments annually, reaching $18 an hour on Jan. 1, 2022. After that, it would increase by 2% per year or by the inflation index, whichever is greater.
A coalition of unions submitted nearly 22,000 signatures to the city clerk last month. The initiative required 10% of the city’s electorate, or 13,185 signatures, in order to qualify for the ballot. The Orange County Registrar of Voters informed the city on Wednesday that the measure had sufficient signatures to qualify.
The Anaheim City Council will have the option at its June 19 meeting to approve the measure outright, submit it to voters, or seek an economic analysis. It appears likely the council will seek an economic analysis, which would push its decision on placing it on the ballot off until its July 17 meeting. The council is expected to put the measure on the ballot, which would set up a heated fall campaign.
Disneyland referred comment on the measure to the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, which has launched a campaign to defeat what it calls the “Anaheim Job Killer Initiative.”
“If a proposal like this that creates such a wide disparity between Anaheim’s wage mandate and surrounding communities becomes law, it will have severe negative consequences for Anaheim,” Todd Ament, president and CEO of the chamber, said in a statement. “We’d see the immediate loss of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue.”