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Disney heiress Abigail Disney calls for company to "reward all of your workers fairly"

Disneyland workers demand higher pay

Abigail Disney isn't asking for a fairy tale ending for the thousands of people who work at the company her grandfather co-founded. But the Disney heiress thinks workers who clean bathrooms at the company's theme parks, for instance, shouldn't struggle when the guy at the top rakes in — in her view — an "insane" amount, or $65.6 million in executive compensation last year.    

The granddaughter of Roy Disney wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post that she believed "Disney could well lead the way, if its leaders so chose, to a more decent, humane way of doing business." She noted that Disney CEO Robert Iger took home $64 million in 2018, which is "1,424 times the median pay of a Disney worker."

"To put that gap in context, in 1978, the average CEO made about 30 times a typical worker's salary," Disney wrote. "Since 1978, CEO pay has grown by 937 percent, while the pay of an average worker grew just 11.2 percent."

Disney wrote that she is not saying that Iger and other executives do not deserve bonuses, but rather,  "Disney could probably set aside just half of its executive bonus pool, and it would likely have twice as much as it would need to give that bottom decile a $2,000 bonus." 

"Besides, at the pay levels we are talking about, an executive giving up half his bonus has zero effect on his quality of life," Disney wrote. "For the people at the bottom, it could mean a ticket out of poverty or debt. It could offer access to decent health care or an education for a child."

Disney called on the leadershp at the company to "reward all of your workers fairly."

"Don't turn away when they tell you they are unable to make ends meet," Disney wrote. "You do not exist merely for the benefit of shareholders and managers. Reward all the people who make you successful, 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."

Disney first brought up the company's income disparity at an event last Thursday, then followed up on her thinking in a series of tweets during the weekend. Saying she likes Iger, was not involved in Walt Disney's operations and did not speak for other family members, Abigail Disney tweeted that "by any objective measure a pay ratio over a thousand is insane."  

A study conducted last year by researchers at Occidental College and the Economic Roundtable found 1 in 10 Disneyland workers had recently been homeless, and two thirds did not have enough food to eat three times a day.

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Bob Iger Reuters

Disneyland at the time dismissed the findings as "unscientific and unscientific."

Walt Disney's top executives could relinquish half their compensation and not see any impact on their standard of living, with the money better spent spread among the company's more than 200,000 employees, Abigail Disney argued on social media.

"Anyone who contributes to the success of a profitable company and who works full time to do so should not go hungry, should not ration insulin and should not have to sleep in a car," tweeted the activist and Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker.

It's not the first time the Disney heiress has advocated on behalf of lower-paid workers. A member of Patriotic Millionaires, an activist group that supports higher taxes on the rich, she voiced opposition to the GOP tax bill in a 2017 video. She more recently told New York magazine that she has given away about $70 million during the last 30 years, and that she is "hyperconscious about what wealth does to people."

Walt Disney Co. defended Iger's compensation as "90 percent performance-based," with a spokesperson saying in an email the CEO had "delivered exceptional value for shareholders." The company now pays a starting hourly wage at $15 at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and is investing in an educational program to help its workers, the spokesperson emailed. 

Workers at the theme park had rallied last year for higher "living wage" of $20 an hour.