Bernie Sanders Takes on Disneyland for ‘Poverty Wages’ at Anaheim Rally [Updated]

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Disneyland bills itself the “happiest place on Earth,” but for hourly workers at their Anaheim properties it’s anything but, according to both a recent survey from Occidental College as well as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sanders, in partnership with Good Jobs Nation, a union advocate, and thousands of Disneyland resort workers took part in a rally and roundtable on Poverty in Anaheim on June 2 at the River Church Arena at 201 East Broadway.

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The event comes after a widely publicized economic survey conducted by Occidental showed that a majority of Disneyland resort workers struggle to pay for basic living costs, including food, housing and healthcare. The survey, “Working for the Mouse,” reported that 11 percent of Disneyland workers have been homeless in the last two years, 68 percent are food insecure and 36 percent report having to sacrifice necessities to pay monthly health insurance premiums.

Sanders’ visit and rally also comes on the heels of ongoing contract negotiations between the Big Mouse and employees and an announcement by a coalition of 11 labor unions representing Disneyland workers proclaiming that they collected the 21,000 signatures required to put a ballot measure before Anaheim voters this November that would require Walt Disney Co. and other large Anaheim employers that accept city subsidies to pay the resort workers a “living wage.” (The coalition wants workers to be paid a minimum of $15 an hour starting Jan. 1, 2019, with salaries rising $1 an hour every Jan. 1 through 2022. Once wages reach $18 an hour, annual raises would then be tied to the cost of living.) Currently, as the Los Angeles Times reported in a multipart investigation “Anaheim’s Subsidy Kingdom” last September, Disneyland enjoys subsidies, rebates and tax protections that public policy experts that reviewed deals between the company and the city amount to more than $1 billion.

The resort recently upped ticket prices by as much as 18 percent, aside from the single-day off-season ticket that will stick to $97, and annual passes in February to help off-set the construction costs of “Star Wars” land, set to open in 2019.

In light of Sanders’ visit, as local NBC Los Angeles reported, Disney rolled out a proposed wage offer two days ago that they said would amount to a 36 percent increase over a three-year span for hourly workers. Disney Resort said, “master services cast members” would make a $15-per-hour wage by 2020, two years ahead of the state’s minimum wage standard increase. (The current minimum wage is $11 an hour.)

Disney officials told the news outlet the offer was made in April as part of the resort’s ongoing contract negotiations with the Masters Services Council, which consists of four labor unions that collectively rep around 9,500 workers at Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure Park and Downtown Disney.

“We currently are negotiating one of the largest union contracts at Disneyland Resort,” Suzi Brown, vice president of communications for Disneyland Resort, told Commercial Observer. “In addition, we are launching an education program that will help hourly cast members pursue skills and degrees to further their careers. We are proud of our commitment to our cast. 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.”

The event is part of a packed day for the progressive senator, with Sanders going on to host a town hall in Carson around wage theft for Los Angeles and Long Beach port truck drivers and warehouse workers and a rally that evening at the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles with Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors and civil rights activist and Real Justice co-founder Shaun King to discuss steps to reform the justice system.

Sanders’ office and Good Jobs Nation did not return calls for comment as of press time.

Updated to include a response from Disneyland Resort

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