Anaheim: Hotel Workers Union Using Referendum To Punish Hotel Developer For Not Unionizing

Last week it was certified that the militantly leftist hotel workers union, UNITE-HERE Local 11, had turned in sufficient qualified signatures to force referendums on two agreements for the development of two 4-Diamond luxury hotels in next to Disneyland.

The Anaheim City Council now has the option of calling a stand-alone special election or consolidating the referendum with an already schedule election – presumably the June primary or November general election in 2018. Or it could rescind the agreements.

The hotel developer is Hong Kong-based The Wincome Group, which proposes building two luxury hotels where the Ana Bella Hotel and Anaheim Plaza Resort and Suites currently stand. They are part of the $6 billion wave of development hitting Anaheim due to the policies of the council’s much-maligned majority.

The two Wincome projects were approved at the same July 15, 2016 Anaheim City Council meeting as Disney’s 4-Diamond hotel project, slated to be built adjacent to the Mickey and Friends parking structure.  All three projects are participating in the city’s Hotel Incentive Program, which incentivizes the construction of 4-Diamond hotels via a Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) rebate program; once a participating hotels opens its doors for business, 70% of the TOT collected at that hotel is rebated back to the hotel for a period of 20 years.

It’s worth noting that UNITE-HERE did not seek a referendum on the Disney deal. That is because UNITE-HERE Local 11 already represents employees at the three Disney-owned hotels in the Resort District, and employees of the planned 4-Diamond property will be UNITE-HERE Local 11 members under the existing collective bargaining agreement with Disney.

It’s costly for a hotel to have its workers represented by UNITE-HERE – not because of wage levels, but due to the union’s health plan, which is very expensive. UNITE-HERE insists workers it represents are covered by its health plan rather than one offered by their employer – this makes it more expensive to hire a UNITE-HERE member instead of a non-member. The union needs to keep enrolling bodies as members in order to carry the huge overhead costs of its health plan.

The Wincome Group ultimately decided against signing a collective bargaining agreement with UNITE-HERE Local 11. The militant hotel workers union has responded by trying to kill these projects.

UNITE-HERE Local 11 Secretary-Treasurer Ada Briceño was quoted in the OC Register as saying:

“We are hoping that by doing this we will halt Wincome’s projects.”

While UNITE-HERE and its allied community organizers and council candidates (Jose F. Moreno and Arturo Ferreras) like to tar these projects as “giveaways,” their denunciations are hollow because they are not opposed to using TOT tax rebate programs to attract luxury hotels. In fact, UNITE-HERE Local 11 praised such a program enacted this spring by the Santa Ana City Council – because it mandates the unionization of participating hotels.

That is the political agenda being pursued by UNITE-HERE and its progressive allies and candidates in Anaheim. In a different context, it would be racketeering. The populist rhetoric about “corporate giveaways” is a smoke-screen. Their social justice rhetoric camouflages their nihilism: if they can’t unionize a portion of the 1,000 hotel jobs these projects would create, the union and its allies would rather kill those jobs (and the accompanying 4,000 construction jobs).

This referendum isn’t about principles or “giveaways” or “letting the people vote.” It’s a raw union power play. nothing more. It’s worth noting that Mayor Tom Tait is actively supporting UNITE-HERE’s two council candidates – Jose F. Moreno and Arturo Ferreras – who are supporting this blackmail exercise, and Howard Ahmanson is funding independent expenditures on their behalf.

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