Abigail Disney Calls for "Dignity" and "Human Rights" for Disneyland Employees

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The heiress and activist again slammed company CEO Bob Iger in a new interview: "Bob needs to understand he's an employee, just the same as the people scrubbing gum off the sidewalk."

The heiress to Walt Disney's legacy says a trip to Disneyland to speak with employees about their working conditions made her feel "livid" about the pay disparity between on-the-ground workers and CEO Bob Iger's $65.6 million salary.

In a new interview with Yahoo News' Through Her Eyes, Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of company co-founder Roy Disney, describes a trip she says she took to the original Disney park to understand working conditions after receiving a Facebook message from a distressed worker. "I went to Anaheim, and I wanted to be sure I understood the situation and the context really, really well,” she said. "Every single one of these people I talked to were saying, ‘I don't know how I can maintain this face of joy and warmth when I have to go home and forage for food in other people's garbage.’”

She added, "I was so livid when I came out of there because, you know, my grandfather taught me to revere these people that take your tickets, that pour your soda. Those people are much of the recipe for success.”

A Walt Disney Co. spokesperson disputed this characterization, noting that it pays an average $19.50/hour minimum wage, and saying, "This widely reported stunt is a gross and unfair exaggeration of the facts that is not only a misrepresentation, but also an insult to the thousands of employees who are part of the Disney community. We continually strive to enhance the employment experience of our more than 200,000 employees through a variety of benefits and programs that provide them opportunity, mobility and well-being."

It's only the latest time Disney has slammed the way the company is now treating its non-executive workers. In April, following news that Iger's salary had increased 80 percent in the 2018 fiscal year, Disney called his pay "insane" while speaking on a panel on "humane capitalism." She later followed those remarks up with a viral Twitter thread, and in an opinion story for The Washington Post two days later, where she called on Disney to adopt "a more decent, humane way of doing business."

In this latest interview, Disney describes writing a long email to Iger that received no response: “I wrote Bob Iger a very long email, and one of the things I said to him was, ‘You know, you're a great CEO by any measure, perhaps even the greatest CEO in the country right now. You know, your legacy is that you're a great manager. And if I were you, I would want something better than that. I would want to be known as the guy who led to a better place, because that is what you have the power to do.’”

According to a 2019 Equilar report, Iger's $65.6 million 2018 salary was about 1,424 times a Disney employee's median pay, which was calculated to be $59,434. In 2017, the L.A. Times reported that Disneyland was receiving over $1 billion in incentives, rebates and protections from future taxes from Anaheim while the city's finances were in turmoil. 

“The system is the problem, and the people inside of the system who are perfectly comfortable with the system are the problem,” Disney said in her latest interview. “I don't think any president of the United States has as much power as some CEOs in this country.”

In a statement, a Walt Disney Co. spokesperson said in full:

“We generally avoid commenting on such baseless reports like this, but this one is particularly egregious and we won’t let this stand.

We strongly disagree with this characterization of our employees and their experience at Disney. This widely reported stunt is a gross and unfair exaggeration of the facts that is not only a misrepresentation, but also an insult to the thousands of employees who are part of the Disney community. We continually strive to enhance the employment experience of our more than 200,000 employees through a variety of benefits and programs that provide them opportunity, mobility and well-being.

At our parks in Orlando and Anaheim, The Walt Disney Company currently pays its hourly workers an average of $19.50 an hour, significantly above the federal minimum wage. But we understand the challenges workers and families face in 2019 are complex and go beyond the paycheck. That’s why we provide a wide range of benefits and initiatives to improve our employees’ lives at and outside of work: from subsidized childcare to generous leave policies, from convenient access to pharmacies and clinics to free college degrees and vocational training programs for hourly employees.

We recognize the economic challenges facing all working families. And we continually meet with our employees in the process of developing even stronger programs. Still, we’re proud of the work we’ve done to improve the lives of our employees, and of the more than 45,000 jobs we’ve added in the United States since 2005. The men and women who make Disney parks such a special experience for millions of people are dedicated, hardworking and proud, and we will continue to listen to, empower and reward them. That’s what this company has done throughout its history and will continue to do in the future.”