Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Walt Disney Company cofounder Roy Disney, recently sat down with Yahoo!’s weekly show Through Her Eyes to talk about Disneyland workers’ poor working conditions.
The heiress visited Anaheim after a Disneyland worker Facebook messaged her asking for help because Disneyland workers weren’t getting paid enough. She wasn’t pleased with what she heard. (It’s was reported, here and elsewhere, that Disney went “undercover” to the park, but that was apparently a mischaracterization. Disney reportedly met with workers at union headquarters in Anaheim.)
“I was so livid when I came out of there because my grandfather taught me to revere these people that take your tickets, that pour your soda, that scrape the freakin bubblegum off the sidewalks every night so you walk into an immaculate place,” she tells host Zainab Salbi. “Those people are much of the recipe for the success.”
She says when her grandfather hired Disney workers, he hired them for life, which meant they had a retirement plan, healthcare, and a livable wage. She says that idea has seemed to go away.
“There’s no excuse for any employee to be using food stamps,” she says.
Disney says she wrote an email to CEO Bob Iger telling him he’s a “great manager” but she would think he would want to be known for more than that. She urged him to cut the bonuses of the richest Disney employees to help pay the poorest workers more.
“I believe based on my experience of life and what I’ve seen among rich people that there is such a thing as too much money,” she says. “Just get to a comfortable place and then think about the world around you.”
Iger never responded to her and Disney has not responded to our request for comment.
Abigail Disney has always been outspokenly critical of America’s wealth gap. She and a group of other superwealthy people even wrote an open letter to 2020 presidential candidates asking for a tax increase on their own behalf. Disney says she’s a Democrat, which has caused tension with her family members, who are all notable conservatives.
The Through Her Eyes segment goes on to address actress Meryl Streep calling Abigail Disney’s great uncle, Walt Disney, a bigot and racist. Disney says she agrees.
“Sadly, it seems to be the case that there are very nice people who are also racist,” she says.
She cites the time Walt Disney made the star of Song of the South sit outside during the premiere of the movie because he was black and it was Atlanta and he wasn’t allowed in the theater. She also says Walt Disney made the crows in the movie Dumbo, which depicted many black stereotypes.
Abigail Disney says she grew up with two alcoholic parents in a violent home. It wasn’t until college did she feel like she was free and able to find her voice.
Since this story was published, a spokesman for the Walt Disney Company has issued the following response:
“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.”
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