A group of workers from the Disneyland Resort waved signs, chanted and demonstrated outside Walt Disney Co.'s shareholders meeting in Houston on Thursday, demanding the company provide a "living wage."
The demonstration was the latest effort by a coalition of unions at the Anaheim theme parks that is pushing Disney executives to raise wages for the resort's 30,000 workers during a profitable period for the Burbank media giant. Three of those unions are currently negotiating contracts.
Standing in front of the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, the demonstrators held up signs reading "#stopdisneypoverty" among other slogans.
As part of its initiative, the labor groups released an online survey last month that found that 73% of employees questioned don't earn enough to pay for such expenses as rent, food and gas.
In addition, 11% of employees at Disneyland and California Adventure Park who responded to the survey said they have been homeless or have not had a place of their own in the last two years.
One of the authors of the survey said he couldn't get into the meeting to ask Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger about the findings.
"They refused to admit me to the shareholder meetings so I'm out here with the workers," said Dan Flaming, president of the Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit research organization in Los Angeles, in a Twitter video shot outside of the meeting.
Only shareholders were allowed into the meeting.
The online study was paid for by the coalition and conducted by the Economic Roundtable and the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College.
Disney officials have blasted the survey, saying it is inaccurate because it was answered by only a limited number of union workers. The company also said that the average hourly resort worker earns $37,000 a year, which calculates to nearly $18 per hour.
During the meeting, Iger fielded no questions about the survey or about providing hourly wage workers a boost in pay.
However, he heard from several former and current park employees who praised the company executive and the Disney theme parks for helping them advance their careers.
"The company has given me so many opportunities," said Laurel Slater, manager of communications at Walt Disney World, who said she began with the company 20 years ago working at a Disney store in Iowa. "Disney is in my heart and in my DNA."
Iger reminded shareholders that the company recently announced a $50-million education initiative, which is designed to cover tuition costs for hourly employees. The program is expected to receive $25 million in annual funding going forward.
The unions have submitted a proposed ballot measure to the Anaheim city clerk, which would require the resort and other large employers that receive city subsidies to pay a minimum of $15 an hour, starting Jan. 1, 2019, with salaries rising $1 an hour each year through Jan. 1, 2022. Annual raises would then be tied to the cost of living.
The Times has reported how Anaheim has subsidized the Disneyland Resort in several ways, such as through the construction in 2000 of a parking garage that generates millions of dollars in annual revenue for Disney. The city in 2016 also approved a tax break worth $267 million over the next 20 years to build a luxury hotel near the parks.
The demand for higher wages comes only a month after Disney raised ticket prices as much as 18% despite a highly profitable 2017, with one of its most expensive annual passes selling for $1,149 for its two Anaheim parks.
In its most recent earnings report, the Burbank media and entertainment company reported net income of $4.42 billion for the quarter that ended Dec. 30, thanks partly to a federal tax cut. The profit represented a 78% increase over the same period a year earlier.
Park workers also are steamed because Disney promised $1,000 bonuses to each of its 125,000 employees after the approval of the GOP federal tax overhaul. But the company is holding back the bonuses for hotel workers at theme parks in Anaheim and Orlando, pending the resolution of contract negotiations that have been going on for more than a year.
The unions representing the hotel workers have filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Disney of using the promised bonuses as a bargaining chip in the negotiations.
The annual shareholders meeting is typically a scripted, noncontroversial affair. That was not the case last year when Iger faced calls to step down from President Trump's business policy forum, which has since been disbanded.
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9:55 a.m.: This story was updated with comments from the shareholders' meeting and from protesters outside.
8:12 a.m.: This story was updated with tweets from the picketers.
9:37 a.m.: This story was updated to include details of the shareholder meeting.