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Failed Anaheim Union Attempts Politically-Motivated Recall of Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava


After failing to pass Measure A, UNITE-HERE Local 11 now seeks retribution on the moderate Democrat Councilwoman for her refusal to support their initiative.


In Anaheim, there is perhaps no labor union with a reputation more infamous than that of UNITE-HERE Local 11. From inciting ineffectual hotel worker strikes to pioneering disastrous legislation, Local 11 is no stranger to grandiose demonstrations of political theater. Their latest act is an attempted recall of Anaheim Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava, a move which has widely been lampooned as “unjustified,” “weakly researched,” “distasteful,” and a “dramatic power play.”


It is widely believed that the recall effort is primarily motivated by Rubalcava’s public opposition to Measure A, a failed initiative pushed by UNITE-HERE Local 11 last year. Measure A would have implemented a $25 minimum wage (up from $16 per hour) for the city’s hospitality employees and imposed stringent new restrictions on hotels and event centers. Like most Anaheim residents, Rubalcava (a moderate but pro-business Democrat) expressed concern about the measure’s potential to severely impact the local economy and chose not to support it. The voters stood with her judgment, rejecting Measure A by a jaw-dropping 33% in October 2023.


The current recall effort, which is rumored to have begun as early as last winter, seems to be a direct response to these events. By moving to oust Rubalcava, Local 11 appears to be engaging in a vindictive campaign against a duly elected official simply because she stood in opposition to their agenda—and media pundits have clearly taken notice.


“Local 11’s recall effort is revealed to be the hollow work of just one special interest with a grudge,” wrote the Orange County Register’s Editorial Board in a piece titled Vote No on the Unjustified Recall of Anaheim Councilmember Natalie Rubalcava. “It’s also objectionable that this special election will cost $700,000. That’s money that could have gone to fill potholes, spruce up parks, or help the homeless.”


“The recall petition has a slapdash quality and draws from weakly researched sections of the error-riddled JL Group report commissioned by the city last year,” writes Matt Cunningham for Anaheim Observer. 


“This is very distasteful. I hate it,” said City Councilman Stephen Faessel at a recent City Council meeting, reports Voice of OC


It is worth noting that UNITE-HERE Local 11 had a premonition their initiative would be resoundingly rejected—and so they initially pushed Mayor Ashleigh Aitken to adopt it as an ordinance, thus bypassing a vote of the people. Instead, the City Council opted to let the people decide via special election. 


When the initiative became Measure A, union representatives insisted its purpose was not to dramatically raise wages but to enhance worker safety. Thus, Rubalcava brought forward a stand-alone Hotel Worker Safety Ordinance which would have enacted several of Local 11’s suggestions—including requiring hotels to equip their staff with “panic buttons”—without the business-crippling wage spikes. Instead of appreciating the concessions and Rubalcava’s willingness to compromise, Local 11 asked the City Council to vote against the ordinance. It passed anyway.


Effectively, Rubalcava called their bluff. And they folded.


And so, Rubalcava has become the first Councilmember to face a recall in Anaheim in more than 40 years. This is not because of any failure of Rubalcava to serve public interest, or because of any credible allegation of corruption, but because a powerful union has the means to challenge the will of voters—and hopes that their petty act of political retribution sends a message to any would-be challengers.


“Recall elections are supposed to be reserved for special circumstances when an elected leader violates the public trust. The recall targeting Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava is about one LA-based organization that hasn’t gotten over losing the last election,” states the coalition of business, labor, education, housing, healthcare, and environmental leaders opposing the recall effort.


That broad coalition includes prominent Democrats and Republicans such as Congressman Lou Correa; State Senators Josh Newman and Tom Umberg; State Assembly Members Tom Daly, Cottie Petrie Norris, Sharon Quirk-Silva and Avelino Valencia; as well as the Anaheim Firefighters Association, Anaheim Police Association, Anaheim Municipal Employees Association, and L.A. & O.C. Building & Construction Trades Council.


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