On May 16, the Anaheim City Council will have its first opportunity to weigh in on UNITE-HERE Local 11’s ballot measure that would dramatically increase the cost of operating hotels and event center centers in Anaheim, with potentially crippling impacts on the city’s hospitality industry that is still recovering from the long COVID shutdown.

Last week, Local 11 announced it had qualified the initiative for the ballot. If it becomes law, Anaheim hotels and event centers would have to increase their minimum wage to $25 and operate under an expensive, highly restrictive set of rules placing a low ceiling on the square footage of hotel rooms housekeepers can clean before having their hourly wage doubled.

UNITE-HERE is pitching the initiative as a worker safety measure and highlights the provision requiring hotels to equip housekeeping staff with “panic buttons.” However, many hotels have already moved to equip their staff with such devices, and an ordinance requiring panic buttons is expected to come before the city council soon.

The meat of the measure is a set of complex work rules and dramatic wage increases that will be especially devastating to small and medium-size hotels and independent operators.

The initiative turns the city manager’s office into a de facto labor cop charged with policing labor rules for housekeepers.

It also contains a provision under which hotels and event centers can escape the work rules, $25 minimum wage and panic button requirement if they negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with UNITE-HERE Local 11 – leading opponents to criticize the measure as an attempt to extort them into unionizing.

Now that the initiative has qualified, the council has a prescribed set of options.

One is to bypass the ballot by adopting it as an ordinance. That would be the preference of UNITE-HERE leaders, since it guarantees the measure’s adoption and saves them from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pass the measure in the face of intense industry opposition. Almost no one expects the council to do so, however.

The other option is to place it on the November 2024 general election or call a special election.

The city council can also commission a study of the impacts of UNITE-HERE initiative on Anaheim’s economy, city revenues and operations, and affected businesses.  UNITE-HERE’s measure would apply to city-owned properties like the Anaheim Convention Center, Angel Stadium, the Honda Center and the City National Grove. It would make it significantly more costly for conventions and trade shows to come to the Anaheim Convention Center and put Anaheim at a competitive disadvantage with other convention destinations.  Given the measure’s direct and predictable impact on the city’s budget, it would be astonishing if the city council did not to commission the study.

Ordering a study would delay by 30 days the decision on whether place the measure on the ballot or adopt it as an ordinance.

A vigorous “No” campaign is anticipated given the potentially ruinous consequences for many Anaheim hotels and the business that depend on them. An executive with a leading Resort hotel told me, “I’ve read this initiative over and over to try and understand how we can comply without incurring the penalties built into it.”

“What’s become clear is compliance isn’t possible, and the only option is to defeat it,” the executive said.