On Tuesday, the Anaheim City Council voted to place the Resort union coalition’s $18 minimum wage initiative on the November 2018 ballot, but failed to authorize an economic impact study after an acrimonious council debate.
Last week, the Orange County Registrar of Voters certified the initiative had sufficient valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The council’s could vote to 1) place it on the ballot 2) adopt it as a city ordinance – or 3) conduct an economic impact statement before doing either of those two. The latter action would move the date for council action to July 17 – plenty of time to place the initiative on the ballot.
The council chamber were full and the crowd spilled out into the overflow room and outside the chambers. The council meeting itself went until nearly 2:00 a.m.
In recent years, public comments at Anaheim City Council have been largely dominated by a permanent garrison of hooting gadflies and progressive activists. This has changed in recent weeks as the business-labor coalition opposing the $18 wage initiative have turned out an increasing number of supporters to voice opposition during public comments.
Representatives of the Resort business community, local leaders and members of the building trades unions criticized the initiative as a well-meaning job killer. They urged the council to authorize an economic impact study in order to provide the public with more information on how the $18 minimum wage initiative would effect the local economy and city revenues.
“We believe this initiative is dangerous for Anaheim. We ask you to do a full and robust analysis of the impact on jobs in our community, the tax revenues that would be generated or lost if this were passed,” said Todd Ament, expressing “bafflement” at why the Resort unions would oppose doing an economic impact study.
“If this initiative becomes law, the effect could be to hurt many of the people who walked door-to-door to get this initiative on the ballot,” said Ron Miller, executive secretary of the LA/Orange County Building and Constructions Trades Council. “However, it will not just hurt them, but it will kill many of our jobs. It will put an end to many of the current hotel projects in Anaheim that are creating local jobs.”
“Everyone of us in the trades can tell you the key to advancement and success in earning a good living,” continued Miller. “And it’s not Jiminy Cricket wishing on a star. It’s education, training, a lot of hard work, and taking advantage of every opportunity put in front of us. Instead this initiative will punish us and take away the opportunity to work on local project.”
“I’m here to ask for a robust, comprehensive and intensive financial impact study. That’s the way you will inform your citizens before they vote,” said Jerry Amante, executive director of the Orange County Hotel and Lodging Association. “This is not a measure that you should take lightly. It’s one that could have a huge impact on this community, indeed on our neighborhoods and their ability to have the services that we are known for.”
Amante told the council the unions initiative’s impacts could cost the Resort growth opportunities, pointing out that “Disney is already talking to Garden Grove” and noting other hotel projects could be canceled.
Initiative proponents – primarily members of the UNITE-HERE and United Food and Commercial Workers unions – wanted the council to bypass the election and immediately adopt the initiative as a city ordinance. Virtually every pro-initiative speaker mouthed the mantra that the $18 minimum wage initiative was about making Disneyland pay a “living wage” – echoing the union circulators’ pitch when soliciting voter signatures: “this will only affect Disney.”
That, of course, is untrue. The $18 minimum wage initiative directly several major Resort enterprises and very likely dozens and dozens of affiliated businesses, and has been characterized by a leading election attorney as a “litigation bonanza.” If the Resort unions wanted the initiative to apply only to the Disneyland Resort, they could have written it that way – but they chose to make it broad and vague.
Trevor O’Neil, a Republican council candidate running in District 6, zeroed in on that point.
“[The union-funded Economic Roundtable study] considered just one of the employers that would be affected by the initiative and the narrow economic impacts a higher minimum wage would have on its workers without regard to the impact on the broader economy of Anaheim,” said O’Neil.
“That narrative needs to change. This is not just about Disney. This initiative would directly apply to hundreds of employer in the Resort District and have a peripheral impact on thousands more,” continued O’Niel.
Resort Unions Foment Hostile Environment
The atmosphere in the overflow room in the City Hall lobby was shaped by the sympathies of the UNITE-HERE and UFCW members who filled it. Watching public comments on the big screen TV in the lobby, they erupted in boos and jeers whenever someone criticized the union initiative, calling out “liar!” and “shame on you!” The hostility meter really spiked whenever a building trades member spoke against the $18 minimum wage union, prompting UNITE-HERE And UFCW members to yell “Traitor” or “paid by Disney” and other epithets.
However, whenever an initiative supporter was speaking, they would shush people in the room so they could hear talking points with which they agreed.
Things got hinky and hostile – or rather , more hostile – when the council discussion began. Mayor Tom Tait quickly made a motion to place the initiative on the ballot, seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Jose F. Moreno. Councilmembers Lucille Kring and Kris Murray made it clear they wanted to vote on doing an economic impact study, and Tait assured them the council could discuss that after voting on his motion. [It bears noting that no member of the city council was opposed to placing the initiative on the ballot.
At that point, Murray asked City Attorney Roger Fabela if the council vote to approve the study after voting on Tait’s motion. Fabela said they could not: if the council wanted to do the study, it would have to approve it prior to voting to place the initiative on the ballot. In other word’s the mayor’s assurance was untrue.
It would have been beneficial and illuminating if the city attorney had proactively educate the council on these consequential details prior to any motion being made.
Murray subsequently drove home the point that Tait’s motion would prevent the council from authorizing a study on how the unions’ initiative would impact the economic engine of the city. Tait ultimately admitted he thought an economic impact study was a “waste of money” and “delays putting it to the voters.” The latter claim made no sense: whether the council voted on June 19 or on July 17 to place the initiative on the ballot, the election would still be on November 6 and the Resort unions’ initiative would still be on the ballot.
Keep in mind that earlier in May, the city council – Tait included – directed staff to have a consultant selected and be ready to move immediately on a study once the initiative officially qualified. At that time, neither Tait nor Councilwoman Denise Barnes – who echoed the mayor’s negative opinion – signaled their opposition to a study or stated their belief it would be a waste of time.
“The people asked to put it on the ballot, and that’s what we should do,” said Tait. The reality is “the people” have not asked to put the initiative on the ballot – 20,000 of Anaheim 133,881 voters signed the petition, primarily under the false pretense that it only applied to Disney employees. “The people” don’t speak until there’s an election. The mayor’s rhetoric disappointingly echoes the progressive practice of unilaterally identifying their policy goals as being “the people’s”.
Murray was aghast at the refusal to conduct the study.
“I can’t actually even get my mind around the fact that we would not want to do our fiduciary responsibility and just ask for even front-line economic impacts for our local community,” said Murray. “We have no idea, nor will our voters, what the economic impacts will be. To not do this is an absolute abdication of our legal and fiduciary responsibility.”
Ultimately, Tait gaveled down Murray’s attempts to elicit further information from the city attorney and his motion passed on a 4-3 vote – with Murray, Kring and Councilman Steve Faessel voting against placing it on the ballot without an economic impact study.
Another day in the City of Kindness.