Disneyland calls itself “The Happiest Place on Earth,” but family heiress Abigail Disney said she found workers struggling when she recently visited the park.
In an interview with Yahoo this week, Abigail Disney said she decided to check out Disneyland’s worker conditions after a worker sent her a Facebook message. She said every employee delivered a similar message to her: “I don’t know how I can maintain this face of joy and warmth when I have to go home and forage for food in other people’s garbage.”
After the visit, she said she was “so livid” that the company didn’t respect its workers enough.
The Disney heiress, who is also a filmmaker and activist, said Disney CEO Bob Iger needs to fix the huge wage gap between his pay and that of an average worker at the company.
“Bob needs to understand that he is an employee just the same as the people scrubbing gum off the sidewalk are employees, and they’re entitled to the same dignity and human rights that he is,” Abigail Disney said.
She said she emailed Iger about her concerns recently but received no response.
“You’re a great CEO by any measure, perhaps even the greatest CEO in the country right now,” she wrote Iger. “You know, your legacy is that you’re a great manager. And if I were you, I would want something better than that. I would want to be known as the guy who led to a better place, because that is what you have the power to do.”
Iger earned $66 million last year. The median salary of a Disney employee is $46,127, the company reported.
In a statement to CNN Business, the company responded to Abigail Disney’s criticism by pointing out it pays workers above the federal minimum wage, with a starting hourly wage of $15 at California’s Disneyland. The company has committed $150 million to its Disney Aspire program that pays for workers to earn a college, high school or vocational degree.
“Disney is at the forefront of providing workforce education, which is widely recognized as the best way to create economic opportunity for employees and empower upward mobility,” the company said. “American workers need meaningful change; they deserve smart policies and practical programs, like Disney Aspire, that empower them to achieve their goals and ensure they are part of the most competitive workforce in the world.”
Abigail Disney has frequently spoken out about Iger’s salary. In April, she tweeted, “by any objective measure, a pay ratio over a thousand is insane.” She also disclosed that she owned a few Disney shares but does not have any say over company operations.
In May, Abigail Disney addressed Congress on Capitol Hill.
“We need to change the way we understand and practice capitalism.” She told members of a House committee that companies should deliver returns to shareholders “without trampling on the dignity and rights of their employees.”
Editor’s note: Yahoo News, whose interview with Abigail Disney this article drew on, has revised its article to say that she was not “undercover” when she interviewed workers. Disney had told Yahoo News that she “went to Anaheim.” This article has been updated to reflect that change.