November 14, 2017

JOEL KOTKIN: Robert Iger For President? To Many Democrats, The Mouse May Look Like A Louse.

Few global companies enjoy as much public good will as the Walt Disney Company. The entertainment giant regularly ranks highly on lists of the most admired or trusted companies, including ones from Forbes and Fortune.

CEO Robert Iger, who reportedly is being encouraged to run for president in 2020, would be able to use the company’s image to his advantage on the campaign trail, according to The New York Times. Of course, Disney representatives say he’s not running; if so, one has to wonder why Iger is hinting at it so often, as reported in such other mainstream publications as the Guardian and The Hollywood Reporter.

Iger’s progressive positions on gun control, immigration and the Paris Accords certainly are in harmony with the Democratic base. But Iger may have a more difficult time explaining away his company’s treatment of his theme park workforce on his watch, and some of the communities where they live. . . .

Workers at its theme parks in Orlando and Anaheim complain of low wages and exploitative management practices that belie the company’s squishy clean image and could pose a threat to any attempt by Iger to campaign as a progressive Democrat.

Out of the 36,000 unionized Disney workers in the Orlando area, 23,000 make less than $12 an hour and only 3,000 make over $15 an hour, according to labor union officials. To afford a one-bedroom apartment in the Orlando area, a worker would need to be paid $15.87 an hour, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Workers complain that management is miserly with raises even for longtime employees.

Earlier this year Disney was forced by the U.S. Labor Department to pay $3.8 million in back wages to over 16,000 employees in Florida because it had deducted a uniform fee that had caused workers’ compensation to fall below the minimum wage, as well as failed to pay them for work performed before and after their shifts. . . .

The logic used to defend Disney may be persuasive to friendly political operatives, business groups and, no doubt, Iger’s own shareholders, to whom the company returned $2.3 billion in dividends last year. Iger, who took in $44 million in compensation last year, will have a tougher time explaining the labor issues to the Bernie Bros.

Last year during a presidential campaign rally in Anaheim, Sen. Sanders lashed out at Iger for pocketing such a massive paycheck while paying poverty wages to so many. He particularly attacked the company for laying off 250 of its Orlando tech employees, replacing them with foreign H-1B visa holders from an Indian outsourcing firm. Some of the cashiered workers were asked to train their replacements before hitting the streets.

Sounds like the perfect Gentry Liberal.