Anaheim: Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava Beating Union-Funded Recall Attempt

By:Matthew Cunningham

Anaheim Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava is beating a hotel worker union-funded attempt to recall her less than two years after she was elected, according to early election results. The ouster attempt is failing 54.09% to 45.91%.

The vote margin is currently 402 votes, with 292 ballots left to be counted. Although ballots mailed on or before Election Day can be counted, it is highly unlikely there is such a large quantity that the result will be reversed. Tuesday’s result is the latest in a string of ballot defeats for UNITE-HERE Local 11.

Rubalcava, an Anaheim native and centrist Democrat, was elected in November 2022 to represent District 3 in central Anaheim, decisively defeating left-wing school board member Al Jabbar, who was backed by progressive activists and special interests such as UNITE-HERE Local 11, the militant hotel workers union. Jabbar subsequently moved to Placentia.

“I’d like to thank the voters of Anaheim’s district 3 for their support in this election. Serving on my hometown’s city council has been an honor, and I am so glad that I get to continue this important work,” Rubalcava responded when contacted for comment.

“We didn’t ask for this fight, but I am so proud of the campaign that we ran. Our diverse coalition included police officers, firefighters, municipal employees, labor unions, business groups, community organizations, and elected leaders from both political parties,” said Rubalcava. “We knocked on tens of thousands of doors and had countless conversations with residents about how best to move Anaheim forward. I am grateful to everyone who donated, volunteered, and supported our efforts.”

The union spent more than $600,00 on its failed attempt to oust Rubalcava, who benefitted from approximately $700,000 in anti-recall independent expenditures from a broad coalition of businesses, unions and public safety groups – the bulk of the funding from hotels and Resort businesses seeking to avoid political domination of the Anaheim City Council by UNITE-HERE. The recall was also opposed by an array of local Democrat legislators and elected officials, including Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken. 

UNITE-HERE Local 11, which represents hotel workers at five Anaheim hotels, decided to target Rubalcava for recall against Rubalcava after she successfully sponsored a city ordinance requiring hotels to equip their housekeepers and other staff with electronic personal safety devices – commonly known as “panic buttons.” Ironically, this infuriated Local 11 Co-President Ada Briceno (who is also chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County). Although part of her job as a union leader is to ensure the safety of her members, she and the Local 11 leadership had included a panic button requirement in their Measure A – a draconian wage-and-work-rules initiative that was part of their strategy to leverage Anaheim hotel owners into unionizing.

For years, UNITE-HERE has ben aggressively and unsuccessfully seeking to grow its power footprint in Anaheim. While the city is home to hundreds of hotels and motels that cater to its robust tourism and convention industry, UNITE-HERE has not ben able to organize an Anaheim hotel since the 1990s.

Rubalcava’s sponsorship of a hotel worker safety ordinance blew up UNITE-HERE’s strategy of selling its wage-and-work rules initiative as a “panic button” measure and Measure was overwhelmingly rejected by Anaheim voters in October 2023.

Interestingly, UNITE-HERE Local 11 found itself within the labor movement, as a number of unions actively opposed the Rubalcava recall.

After returns showed it virtually certain Local 11’s attempt to recall Rubalcava had failed, union co-president Kurt Peterson posted a non-concession concession on

The recall was part of a broader strategy by Local 11 to position itself as the 800-pound gorilla of Anaheim politics. Last year, two members of the 7-member Anaheim City Council – Mayor Ashleigh Aitken and Councilman Carlos Leon – voted to adopt Measure A as a city ordinance without even bothering to study its economic impact on the city.

There are three council seats up for election this November. Districts 1 and 5 are open, with no incumbent running for re-election. In District 4, appointed incumbent Norma Kurtz is running for election in her own right. Recalling Rubalcava would have put District 3 in play in November and increased opportunities for UNITE-HERE Local 11 to elect a friendly council majority that might be willing to put the weight of city action behind Local 11’s unionization efforts.

The political landscape in Anaheim continues evolving. Now that the city council has unanimously approved DisneylandForward, the level of the image-sensitive company’s involvement in Anaheim elections is an open question. Disney has been altering its election involvement in recent years. In response to local media criticism, it stopped funding negative political mail in Anaheim after the 2016 election cycle and stood on the sidelines in the 2018 and 2022 mayoral races. While Disney ultimately contributed heavily to the anti-Measure A campaign, it waited until Resort businesses owners had already rallied and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the campaign.

What seems likely is UNITE-HERE Local 11 – now fully recovered to pre-COVID membership numbers – will increasingly bring LA-style politics to Anaheim, while a more awakened and organized coalition of small and large businesses seeks to prevent the importation of destructive Los Angeles-style policies into Anaheim.


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