Unions Win, Voters Lose: Council Majority Opposes Including Dollar Amounts In Minimum Wage Ballot Question

This November, Anaheim voters will weigh in on a union proposal to hike the minimum wage requirement for targeted Anaheim Resort businesses. Last week, The Tait-Moreno council majority voted to provide votes with less information on the wage initiative by excluding the dollar amounts of the wage hikes from the ballot question voters will consider.

The original ballot question drafted by the City Attorney’s office, while unbiased, gives voters no information on the size of the increase. It merely asks them to vote yes-or-no on imposing an unspecified minimum wage hike “hospitality industry employers located in the Anaheim or Disneyland Resort Specific Plan Zones that have tax rebate agreements with the City…”

Councilwoman Kris Murray proposed revising the wording to include the dollar amounts of thew wage hikes:

Shall the measure raising the minimum wage to $15/hour beginning in 2019, increasing to $18/hour in 2022 ($3/hour more than the State’s minimum wage) and annually thereafter by at least 2%, payable by certain hospitality industry employers located in the Anaheim/Disneyland Resort Specific Plan Zones that either have a tax rebate agreement with the City or are hospitality industry contractors or tenants of an employer who has such an agreement, be adopted?

One might think the Tait-Moreno council majority – given its ostensible dedication to transparency and sunshine – would welcome the change. After all, everything in the revised ballot question was true. Plus the whole point of the Resort unions’ initiative is to boost the minimum hourly wage to $15 this January and crank it up a dollar a year until hitting $18 in January 2022. Why wouldn’t one include that info in the ballot question?

Good question. And none of the four council member who voted to keep the less-informative ballot question really answered it.

UNITE-HERE and its camp allies were opposed to giving voters more information. That isn’t surprising. The union coalition also opposed conducting an economic impact study of the initiative – which cities routinely do for these kind of ballot measures. Indeed, UNITE-HERE and its allies like mayoral candidate Ashleigh Aitken don’t even want to put the initiative to a vote of the people, unsuccessfully pressing the city council to simply adopt their $18 minimum wage increase without study or a popular vote.

The pattern is clear: from the resort unions’ perspective, the less voters know about their minimum wage measure, the better.

UNITE-HERE Co-President Ada Briceno objected to specifying the wage hike amounts in the ballot question, saying it violates the legal requirement that the question be “impartial and unbiased.”

Think about that for moment. Briceno has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of her members dues to qualify an initiative asking voters to escalate the minimum wage on certain businesses to $18 by January 2022. Yet she not only claimed including that information in the ballot question is biased and partial, but threatened to sue if the council adopted it.

Shakeel Syed, executive director of the UNITE-HERE subsidiary OCCORD, thundered that specifying for voters the dollar amounts of the minimum hourly wage increases Syed and his union allies are seeking is “political maneuvering” by a “heartless” Kris Murray.

Syed’s rant was noteworthy for its nastiness and illogic, as this passage illustrates:

“This last-ditch effort by the heartless – and I say yes, heartless – Councilmember Kris Murray, is nothing more than a cheap and shameless political maneuver to deny the voters of Anaheim their just right to vote any way they want.”

Let’s take the stupidity first. Syed argues that giving Anaheim voters more information about the “living wage” initiative – specifying the amount to which the union wants to hike the minimum wage – is a denial of their right to vote freely. The absence of reason and logic there is stupefying.

It’s not surprising Syed knavishly attack on Murray as “heartless” – because he is a bully. He talks a good game about “rights” and “kindness” and “the people” but his concern for those things is limited his political allies. Several weeks ago, Syed led a mob to disrupt a press conference held by opponents of the union initiative. Syed tried to prevent them from speaking by yelling, shouting, cursing and hurling insults. They didn’t think like him, so he could care less about their “just rights.”

In any case, it was apparent union leaders were fearful their measure would pass if the dollar amounts were staring voters in the face from the ballot question.

Common Practice In Other Cities
In a PowerPoint presentation, Councilwoman Murray demonstrated to her council colleagues that including the wage hike dollar amounts is common practice in other cities where minimum wage increases have been on the ballot.

In San Jose in 2012, the ballot question asked voters say yes or no to a minimum wage increase of “$10 per hour with an annual increase, if any, based on the Consumer Price Index beginning January 1, 2014.”

In San Francisco in 2014, the minimum wage ballot question asked “Shall the City gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by July 1, 2018.”

In San Diego in 2016, the minimum wage measure ballot question specified “a minimum wage of $10.50 an hour upon the Ordinance’s effective date. $11.50 an hour on January 1, 2017.”

Given how frequently Mayor Tait and Jose F. Moreno used the “all the other cities are doing it” argument to justify shifting to by-district elections, they should have found Murray’s examples persuasive.

Tait’s position was the ballot question should be unbiased, and that since Murray opposes the wage increase, then including the dollar amounts of the wage increase in the ballot question is therefore biased.

That’s absurd on its face. The initiative’s prescribed minimum wage increase for affected businesses is $15 in January 2019, and increasing yearly until hitting $18 in 2020.  That is objectively true – regardless of one’s position on the initiative. The mayor’s argument is like saying someone who prefers sunny days can’t write objectively about the characteristics of rain.

As City Attorney Roger Fabela stated: “I’ve never seen a case that looks at the author in determining whether or not it’s an improper statement. It looks at the statement itself.”

Councilman Steve Faessel pointed out the obvious: given a choice between the two versions, ordinary voters prefer the one illustrating the wage hike amounts:

“I think somebody mentioned – one of our residents – today said they asked a couple of people which choice did you like? I did exactly the same thing and walked these to a few of my neighbors…and asked them which seems to be the clearest to you? And they said, “Well, the one that kind of gives the dollar value.”

The council discussion was largely kabuki theater. Tait (and by extension District 1 Councilwoman Denise Barnes) and Moreno would never support including the dollar amounts in the ballot question. As it so often does, it came down to Councilman James Vanderbilt as they swing vote – and he joined his teammates in voting against giving their voters a better idea of what the $18 minimum wage will do.


  1. That is Vanderbilt. This will be an interesting election. As most of Anaheim residents do, I have spoken with a friend that works there. His union just settled and he is receiving a good raise immediately and then to 15 in January. There are folks unhappy with this. There will never be a happy answer. If Unite here had any sense, they would have settled and their members would be looking a a health raise. I also am curious, does anybody know how many Anaheim residents actually work at or in the resort. Not the district but at Disney or its properties? As for the election, how many of Unite Here members vote and how many live in Anaheim? Just asking

  2. Kris Murray works for Disney, she is only concerned with Disney and does not care about people in ANAHEIM.

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