ANAHEIM, Calif. — Outside this city's downtown convention center, the usual crop of vacationing families were boarding theme park shuttles, sporting Mickey Mouse ears or Star Wars backpacks. Inside, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) was denouncing the Walt Disney Co. as an example of the economic greed and media control that had exploded America's wealth gap.
"Everybody knows that the major economic force here in Anaheim is the Disney corporation," Sanders said. "Anybody here work for Disney? Anybody make a living wage, working for Disney?"
There were cheers for the first question, and loud boos for the second.
"I'm probably the only politician to go to Anaheim and say this," Sanders said. "I use Disney not just to pick on Disney, but as an example of what people are talking about when they talk about a rigged economy. Here in Anaheim, and the surrounding areas, Disney pays its workers wages that are so low that many of them are forced to live in motels because they can't afford a decent place to live. Meanwhile, Disney made a record-breaking profit of nearly $3 billion last quarter. At the other side of the world, in Florida, Disney replaced 250 workers with foreign workers using the H1-B visa program. They had tech workers train the people that were replacing them!"
It was a rare political reference to the ongoing lawsuit against Disney over its hiring of consulting companies that cut costs by hiring foreign workers. Sanders went on to criticize the company for "exploiting people in China" and called Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger a member of "the top tenth of one percent," proof of "an economy based on greed," making $46 million in the year that the layoffs occurred.
A spokesman for Disney responded by saying that “Mr. Sanders clearly doesn’t have his facts right."
"The Disneyland Resort generates more than $5.7 billion annually for the local economy, and as the area’s largest employer has added more than 11,000 jobs over the last decade, a 65 percent increase," said the spokesman. "These numbers don’t take into account our $1 billion expansion to add a Star Wars-themed land, which will create thousands of additional jobs across multiple sectors.”
Sanders's attack on the H1-B usage, said the spokesman, ignored that Disney "rehired more than 100 people impacted by our Parks IT reorganization" and "hired more than 170 other US IT workers roles and are currently recruiting candidates to fill more than 100 IT positions.”
But Sanders didn't limit his critique to the company's employment methods.
"Let me tell you things that will not appear on ABC [News]," Sanders said. "You know why they won't appear on ABC? Who owns ABC?"
The crowd cried out "Disney!"
"So, you know about these things," Sanders continued. "I think it would be very nice of the Disney corporation to start building factories in the United States. That will not appear on ABC tonight."
ABC News has remained in Sanders's traveling press pool, even during periods when media coverage of his presidential campaign has waned. But allies of Sanders, who has long criticized corporate ownership of the media and partially blamed it for public ignorance of policy, have increasingly accused mainstream media of sidelining him. At rallies this week, Sanders surrogates like actress Rosario Dawson and TV host Cenk Uygur have elicited boos when telling audiences that the primary was functionally over.