Anaheim's living wage ballot measure pits big corporate donors against union money

Disney is Anaheim's largest employer and the city is something of a company town, with Disney exerting massive influence on the city government and engaging in strong-arm tactics to suppress media reports of the dirtiest of its deals, whereby the city financed much of the company's building projects and expansions while extending massive tax breaks.

The times are changing: a less-Disney-friendly Anaheim city government, coupled with a high profile campaign for a $15 wage, pushed the company to offer across-the-board raises to its hourly staff, whose stories of homelessness and precarity had become a national symbol of the way giant corporations had shifted the distribution of profits from workers to shareholders.

The Anaheim City Council is up for re-election and Disney is -- unsurprisingly -- a massive spender in the race, accounting for 23% of the eye-popping $4.3 million spent so far in the small Southern California city.

But Disney's power is being checked by the union that represents its workers, who have spent even more -- 34% of the campaign contributions.

The juiciest target is Measure L, a living wage ballot proposition that will force local businesses to promise to pay a "living wage" as a condition of receiving municipal subsidies -- in other words, if you're going to take taxpayer money to subsidize your business, you can't pay your workers so little that they end up on tax-funded benefits just to survive.

Disney and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce bitterly oppose the measure.

Most of the donations to support the living wage measure have come from unions, including the United Food and Commercial Workers and Unite Here, which represents employees of hotel, restaurants, airports and sports arenas.

The measure would require those businesses that get a city subsidy to pay workers an hourly wage of at least $15 starting in January, increasing $1 per hour each year until 2022, when the wage would then be tied to the cost of living.

“We are the ones that make the magic in the city,” Briceno said. “We need a louder voice.”

Disney and labor unions are spending big on Anaheim's 'living wage' measure and council races [Hugo Martin/LA Times]