Bernie Sanders: Disney needs 'moral defense' for having hungry workers while making billions

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOn paper, Wilkie is the perfect candidate for VA secretary, but his qualifications go further Sacha Baron Cohen mulls arming toddlers with guns in inaugural episode Ocasio-Cortez to campaign with Bernie Sanders in Kansas MORE (I-Vt.) lambasted Walt Disney Co. on Saturday for making billions of dollars in profits while failing to pay workers "a living wage."

At a rally in Anaheim, Calif., Sanders demanded a "moral defense" for Disney and other billion-dollar corporations that pay their executives high salaries but have made efforts to avoid raising other workers' salaries.

“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,” Sanders told the crowd.

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“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.”

Sanders was joined on stage by members of a coalition of unions that had gathered about 21,000 signatures to qualify for the November municipal ballot that seeks to require large employers who receive government subsidies to maintain a $15 minimum wage.

To qualify for the ballot only 10 percent, or 13,150, of Anaheim voters needed to provide their signatures.

If adopted, the measure would require a $15 minimum wage starting on Jan. 1, 2019, and a $1 raise every Jan. 1 through 2022. After an employee’s pay reaches $18 an hour, raises would be pegged to the cost of living.

The Disneyland Resort and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce have opposed the measure, saying such a wage hike would make it more expensive to do business and could discourage subsequent development.

Several Disneyland employees voiced their struggle to live off the company's current wages.

“Disney prides itself on making dreams come true,” Disneyland employee Grace Torres said, on the verge of tears. “Disney, where is my dream?”

Amid ongoing union negotiations, Disney offered to raise the starting salaries of its California park employees Thursday to $15 an hour over the next three years. 

According to the offer, entry-level employees would see an immediate pay bump to $13.25 an hour — up from $11 currently. Workers would see wages increase to $15 by 2020, marking a 36 percent increase over three years. 

A park spokeswoman told The Hill that Disney plans to develop an education program to allow employees to "pursue skills and degrees to further their careers."

"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,” said Suzi Brown, vice president of Disneyland Resort Communications.

Still, a recent study of union employees at Disney's California park pointed to average hourly wages for park employees decreasing for more than 15 years.

— Updated at 10:55 p.m.