Abigail Disney—the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, co-founder of the famous entertainment company—is speaking out against the poor working conditions facing the employees of her family’s corporation. Life at Disney, she says, is hardly a heartening fairy-tale.
The heiress made the trip to visit Disneyland and interview workers after hearing reports of its employees struggles. One such report came in the form of a stunning 2017 study by Occidental College, surveying 17,000 Disneyland workers.
The study found three-fourths of all workers were unable to pay all their bills—10% had recently been homeless. Moreover, two-thirds described that they could not afford three meals each day.
“I spoke with workers at their union headquarters, off property, and just sat with them. All I wanted was for them to look me in the eye and tell me what was going on” Disney explained, speaking on Democracynow. “I wanted to really hear the whole story myself.”
According to Disney, the people she met and spoke with confirmed her fears.
One diabetic employee described to the heiress her growing insecurity. Working 9-10 hours a day, her wage had not risen in two years. Her department had lost more than 50 men and women, abandoning her to a higher workload. Although she emphasized she loved the company, she is left hardly able to afford her insulin.
Abigail Disney’s complaints first came in the form of an op-ed in The Washington Post. Using The Walt Disney Company as a case study, she took issue with the fast-growing disparity between boss and worker.
“[The company’s CEO, Robert Iger,] took home more than $65 million in 2018. That’s 1,424 times the median pay of a Disney worker,” writes Disney.
“To put that gap in context, in 1978, the average CEO made about 30 times a typical worker’s salary. Since 1978, CEO pay has grown by 937 percent, while the pay of an average worker grew just 11.2 percent.”
The company has rebuked Disney’s comments in a widely circulated response. Representatives for the organization said the picture she has been painting 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.”
The company cited its $15 an hour minimum wage, an average salary of roughly $46,000, and a college fund worth $140 million.
“I don’t care how many times they say all of those things,” responded Disney, going on to reference the tens of millions projected for the CEO’s salary.
“Just look at the contrast between $140 million and $46,000. We know that a living wage in Anaheim is more like $24. So when they, after years of fighting tooth and nail, went to the $15 minimum—and it was only just this year—they raised it to a minimum that still wasn’t a living wage.”
As one of the more socially active members of the Disney family, she has taken up similar causes before. She has spoken before Congress on the issue of wealth inequality and has advocated for a variety of measures including higher corporate and estate taxes.
“Reward all of your workers fairly. Don’t turn away when they tell you they are unable to make ends meet. You do not exist merely for the benefit of shareholders and managers ... 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 concluded in her op-ed, reaching out directly to her great-grandfather’s company.