An appellate ruling requires The Walt Disney Company to comply with a 2018 City of Anaheim voter initiative establishing a higher living wage for more than 25,000 Disneyland-area workers.
SANTA ANA, CA—An appellate court ruled today that The Walt Disney Company must abide by Measure L, a 2018 voter-approved City of Anaheim Living Wage Ordinance that applies to hospitality employers in Anaheim or the Disneyland Resort that benefit from city subsidies. Disneyland and other employers refused to comply with the Measure.
“The only really surprising aspect of this case is how much effort Disney has devoted to avoiding paying all its employees at least $15 an hour,” said attorney Richard McCracken of McCracken Stemerman & Holsberry LLP. “The Living Wage Ordinance was clearly aimed at large hospitality employers, and Disney is, of course, the most prominent. The Court of Appeal has carried out the intentions of the Anaheim voters.”
The decision means that thousands of workers may be entitled to wages that were denied them by Disney’s longtime refusal to obey Measure L and pay the standard that Anaheim voters approved. “We are thrilled by the Court’s decision and hope Disney will stop fighting against paying its workers a living wage,” said plaintiff Regina Delgado, a former employee of the Plaza Inn located inside the Disneyland resort area. Delgado was earning an hourly wage of $12/hour until August 2019, well below the $15/hour then required under the law.
The ruling affects tens of thousands of workers at Disneyland Resorts, including park employees, hotel employees inside the resort, and resort food service workers employed by Sodexo. “Disney’s ongoing refusal to pay more than 25,000 employees a living wage has resulted in this case becoming one of the largest living wage class action lawsuits,” said attorney Sarah Grossman-Swenson of McCracken Stemerman & Holsberry LLP.
“Earning a living wage would mean I could help plan for my future and get out of poverty,” said Damien Valdovinos, a cashier employed inside Disneyland by Sodexo.
Today’s ruling overturns a 2021 decision by the Superior Court of Orange County. According to McCracken, “Disney’s resistance has been based on the most hypertechnical legalisms about whether it had an agreement with the City for a rebate of its taxes. As we urged, the Court saw through these ‘obfuscating labels’ and focused on the economic reality of Disney’s agreement with the City for the development of California Adventure and Downtown Disney. The Court found that Disney’s entitlement to a rebate is clear. Now the only question is how much longer Disney will string this out in order to avoid paying its employees what the law requires.”
The decision comes as thousands of hotel workers across Southern California are striking for a wage that will permit them to live near where they work, as a record housing crisis forces workers to live hours away or for many, in their cars. “Workers should have the right to live near where they work, especially those who make Disney and the surrounding hotels so profitable,” said Ada Briceño, co-president of UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents the striking hotel workers.
While hospitality workers make the case for living wages in court and on picket lines, Disney has emerged as harshly indifferent to employees across the entire scope of the company’s business. Disney CEO Bob Iger, who reportedly may earn as much as $27 million in 2023, has been a vocal opponent of the demands made by writers and actors that they be fairly compensated.
“It feels great,” said Javier Terrazas, a banquet server at Disneyland who lives in Anaheim-adjacent Garden Grove, CA. “All this time we’ve been waiting for Disney to follow Measure L. I’m glad the Court has agreed with Disney workers.” Terrazas, a father of five, was earning an hourly rate on January 1, 2019 of $12/hour, which went up to $13/hour on January 1, 2020.
Alicia Grijalva, a theme park hair stylist at the park since 2017, said “I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the court of appeals for upholding the principles that no entity, not even large corporations, are above the law. I believe the intentions of the Anaheim voters were heard.”
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