Abigail Disney Urges Walt Disney Co. to "Lead" in Op-Ed About Wage Inequality

Abigail Disney - H 2016
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The filmmaker and activist, whose great uncle was Walt Disney, advised the Walt Disney Company to "help rebuild the American middle class and respect the dignity of the men and women who work just as hard as you do to make Disney the amazing company it is."

In an op-ed published Tuesday in The Washington Post, filmmaker and activist Abigail Disney asks the Walt Disney Co., co-founded by her great uncle Walt Disney, to "lead" other major American companies in improving wage inequality. 

Noting that she speaks only for herself and not her family, Disney builds on a viral Twitter thread she wrote over the weekend, where she labeled Disney CEO Bob Iger's compensation "insane." Disney writes, "The thread went viral, partly because of my name. But I suspect it would be far harder to get that reaction if my last name were Procter or Gamble. That’s because the Disney brand occupies a special place in our economic landscape. Its profits are powered by emotion and sentiment and, yes, something as fundamental as the difference between right and wrong. I believe that Disney could well lead the way, if its leaders so chose, to a more decent, humane way of doing business."

Clarifying her intent, Disney said, "I had to speak out about the naked indecency of chief executive Robert Iger’s pay. According to Equilar, Iger took home more than $65 million in 2018." She goes on to write that since 1978, CEO pay has grown by 937 percent, while the typical worker's pay has only grown by 11.2 percent. 

After the 21st Century Fox transaction closed, Iger's total annual compensation was amended by the Walt Disney Co. by as much as $13.5 million, with his base salary falling by $500,000 to $3 million. 

Speaking about the wider consequences of this pay gap between CEO and worker, Disney notes that the growth in inequality has affected every corner of American life. "We are increasingly a lopsided, barbell nation, where the middle class is shrinking, a very few, very affluent people own a great deal and the majority have relatively little," she writes. "What is more, as their wealth has grown, the super-rich have invested heavily in politicians, policies and social messaging to pad their already grotesque advantages."

While noting that the Disney company gave 125,000 of its employees a $1,000 raise in 2018, the activist writes that this figure was "dwarfed by the $3.6 billion it spent to buy shares back to drive up its stock price and thus enrich its shareholders."

Further into the op-ed, Disney claims to have been "quietly grumbling" over this issue for a while, unsure how public to be with her opinion. She concludes that is "time to call out the men and women who lead us and to draw a line in the sand about how low we are prepared to let hard-working people sink while top management takes home ever-more-outrageous sums of money."

Disney provides several suggestions for improvements within management at the company, including "reward all your workers fairly and don't turn away when they tell you they are unable to make ends meet."

"Reward all the people who make you successful," she suggests, adding "help rebuild the American middle class and respect the dignity of the men and women who work just as hard as you do to make Disney the amazing company it is."