Vermont senator Bernie Sanders revisited one of the core themes of his 2016 presidential run during a rally for workers, excoriating the Walt Disney Co. for showering money on CEO Bob Iger while shortchanging Disneyland workers.
Sanders told the crowd at an Anaheim church on Saturday, “I want to hear the moral defense of a company that makes $9 billion in profits, $400 million for their CEOs and have a 30-year worker going hungry. Tell me how that is right.” (See short video clip below.)
The rally was attended by hundreds of Disneyland workers, who are helping a collection of unions across many industries gather signatures for a municipal ballot initiative. If it makes the ballot in November, the measure would require large companies taking subsidies from the city of Anaheim to pay workers at least $15 an hour.
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If the measure is adopted, the $15 threshold would take effect in January 2019. Wage minimums would rise $1 an hour annually through 2022, followed by increases tied to the cost of living.
“The struggle that you are waging here in Anaheim is not just for you,” Sanders said. “It is a struggle for millions of workers all across this country who are sick and tired of working longer hours for lower wages.”
Disney has been in contract negotiations with 9,500 workers at its resorts (a tally that does not include hotel workers) in recent months. The company last week offered to raise the starting salaries of its California park employees to $15 an hour over the next three years, a 36% increase. Entry-level employees under that setup would have their wages boosted to $13.25 an hour from $11 now.
As justification for their push for wage increases beyond what Disney has offered, workers have cited a study released in February that presented some damning statistics. It found that 73% of Disney employees reported not being able to pay for such basic expenses as rent, food and gas.
Disney maintains that the study is flawed. Company spokeswoman Suzi Brown furnished a statement to Deadline insisting the company is treating employees fairly. “We are proud of our commitment to our cast, and the fact that more people choose to work at Disneyland Resort than anywhere else in Orange County,” the statement said. “While Mr. Sanders continues to criticize Disney to keep himself in the headlines, we continue to support our cast members through investments in wages and education.”
Leading up to the rally, Sanders tweeted numerous times about Disney’s “greed” and the “poverty wage” he accused it of paying workers. See one example of those tweets below, appealing to Disney to follow its own example of doing “the right thing” after last week’s cancellation of Roseanne.
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