Abigail Disney, the heiress of the Disney fortune, is once again speaking out against the company’s unfair labor and wage practices. She recently spoke to Disneyland employees in California, where they shared their experiences with the theme park’s work environment. In the past, Abigail Disney has criticized Disney CEO Bob Iger’s obscene salary and the drastic pay gap between Iger and other Disney employees. Abigail Disney also testified in May at the House Committee on Financial Services during a hearing on strengthening the rights and protections of workers. We speak with Abigail Disney, filmmaker and granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, the co-founder of The Walt Disney Company.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: “The Happiest Place on Earth.” That’s how Disneyland describes itself. But that’s not the experience of thousands of its workers. And now it’s the heiress of the Disney fortune who is once again speaking out about the company’s unfair labor and wage practices, after speaking to employees at the California theme park. Earlier this year, Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, the co-founder of Walt Disney Company, made headlines when she called Disney CEO Bob Iger’s salary, quote, “insane.”
AMY GOODMAN: In an op-ed for The Washington Post headlined “It’s time to call out Disney—and anyone else rich off their workers’ backs,” Abigail Disney wrote, quote, “Iger took home more than $65 million in 2018. That’s 1,424 times the median pay of a Disney worker. … At the pay levels we are talking about, an executive giving up half his bonus has zero effect on his quality of life. 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,” unquote. Abigail Disney also testified in May at the House Committee on Financial Services.
Well, for more, we go to Abigail Disney, filmmaker, activist, granddaughter of Roy O. Disney—co-founder of The Walt Disney Company—speaking to us from Cork, Ireland.
Abigail, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Talk about what you found.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, you know, it was pretty clear what was happening there was that they were working to take those low-wage workers at Disney and basically turn them into people who had no recourse for appeal and no time enough to be able to stand up for themselves as workers, so that they would have an eternally refreshing class of people that would replace the ones who were unhappy.
So, it was—when I was young, it was a job for life, which is now not a thing in capitalism anymore. But there was the sense we had a responsibility as a company to take care of the people who took care of us, who were very much a part of the equation in terms of making the place a place you wanted to come back to. And now we’re just basically seeing them as, you know, endlessly replaceable people. There’s a kind of a given, you know, among people at the high end of the business world, that low-skilled workers, as they call them, are endlessly replaceable, and they a little bit deserve what they get, because they don’t have higher skills.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what’s been the reaction among company executives to your continued raising of criticism of them?
AMY GOODMAN: Not to mention your family.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Yeah. Two of my siblings are very supportive of what I’m doing. I also have members of my family who are not pleased. But the company has not reached out to me directly, interestingly enough. I think they see me as a gadfly and a problem. So, they tend to pick up the phone and call whoever just interviewed me, and dress them down. They’re sending out targeted tweets to everybody on my Twitter follower page and telling them about their education program. So, they kind of shadow me, and they slap back with the idea that they pay a lot for education—which has nothing to do with paying the people who work today a fair price for the work they did today.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let me ask you, when you testified—well, a 2017 study from Occidental College that surveyed 17,000 Disneyland workers, more than half the resort’s employees, found many struggle to make ends meet. Ten percent reported having been homeless within the past two years. Two-thirds said they couldn’t afford to eat three meals a day. Three-quarters, 75%, said they were unable to pay all their bills at the end of each month. So, Abigail Disney, what are you calling for? We’re talking about your family’s company.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: You know, what I’m trying to do is have a have-you-no-sense-of-decency moment here, because, you know, we can quibble about CEO salaries until the end of time and who deserves what. And that’s the other thing they clap back at me with, is, “Look at the profitability of the company. Of course he deserves a big salary.” OK, that might or might not be true. We can talk about that. But if the company is so profitable, why are there people going hungry?
So, you know, we need to have a moment here and check in with what our values are, as a society, and say to ourselves, “If people are doing that well at the top, how can we allow people who are working a full-time job, who are playing by every freaking rule, and allow them to go hungry and without healthcare and without housing?”
AMY GOODMAN: And what does the CEO say, Iger, to what you said? How much does he make?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, OK, so, for 2019, it will be over $140 million, technically, all in. When I started this, I started using the lower number, because—
AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Yeah, OK. So, it’s $66 million for 2019, and when the merger goes through, $140 [million].
AMY GOODMAN: And the merger is with?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: With Fox. And they will be the largest media entity in the history of the United States or anywhere.
AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re going to do Part 2 with you. We’re going to post it online at democracynow.org and find out exactly what the workers did say to you at Disneyland. Abigail Disney, filmmaker, activist, granddaughter of Roy O. Disney—the co-founder of The Walt Disney Company.