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Natalie Rubalcava Champions Anaheim’s Historic Hotel Worker Safety Law


Anaheim takes a leap forward with Rubalcava’s ordinance by enshrining new protections for hospitality employees.


Between the iconic Disneyland, major sports teams, the largest convention center on the West Coast, and a vast array of hotels and resorts, Anaheim has long been a mecca for entertainment and tourism. Now, the city’s nationally renowned hospitality industry has taken a significant step forward in enhancing worker safety standards with the implementation of the Hotel Worker Protections ordinance. 


First introduced by City Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava in June 2023, this ordinance provides new security measures to protect hotel employees, such as equipping workers with personal security devices that they can activate in case of emergency or in response to threatening behavior. It also requires hotels to assign designated personnel to facilitate prompt, effective responses to such activations and shields workers from retaliation for exercising their rights.


“Everyone should feel safe doing their job. On that we can all agree,” Rubalcava wrote in a piece for the OC Register on the morning of the vote. “We need to adopt this ordinance now and lead the way on worker safety for California’s hospitality industry.”


That evening, the ordinance was adopted unanimously, earning support from both the Democrat and Republican Councilmembers.


In December 2023—one month before the ordinance would be enacted—Rubalcava requested and subsequently received a detailed implementation overview from city officials on how the city would implement the code. In doing so, she helped clarify the city’s responsibilities and helped ensure compliance with hotels. As of May 2024, several months post-implementation, the feedback from hotel staff and management has been positive with one notable exception.


For context, the ordinance shared similarities with safety provisions that were part of Measure A, a previous initiative pushed by the labor union UniteHere Local 11, which also sought to increase the minimum wage for hospitality workers to $25 per hour. However, Measure A was decisively rejected by Anaheim voters due to concerns over the economic impacts of such a drastic wage hike. 


Allegedly, this infuriated Local 11 co-president Ada Briceno, who is also notably the chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County. Briceno urged the Council to vote against the ordinance, but to no avail. Effectively, Rubalcava extracted and promoted these safety provisions as their own standalone ordinance—ensuring they could still succeed if the controversial wage proposal were to fail. 


Put more simply, it is thanks to Rubalcava that these critical safety provisions did not die with Measure A. 


However, despite her contributions, UniteHere Local 11 recently initiated a recall effort against Rubalcava. Many Anaheim residents view this as a retaliatory move—a bitterness over the failure of their initiative. However, there is, in this case, a disconnect between the union's agenda and the public good.


“I am absolutely against it and support my council colleague,” said Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken at a meeting of the Anaheim Democrat Club. “I’m not comfortable with recalls being used as a political hammer. And I believe that not just because she’s my council colleague, and she’s also a fellow registered Democrat.”


Other cities will naturally look to Anaheim’s example. Although it did not happen on Local 11’s terms, new rights have been enshrined for hospitality workers where they might have otherwise been rejected. This will allow employees to better—and more safely—serve the city’s roughly 25 million annual residents and possibly pave the way for other municipalities to follow suit.


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