Disney heiress says skip theme park visits to help worker rights

A key way to push for change.
Image: Bloomberg

Abigail Disney, an heiress to the Walt Disney Co. fortune and advocate for income equality, said a consumer exodus from businesses that don’t treat workers well — including the company’s theme parks — is a key way to push for change.

“This is an Amazon problem, and a Walmart problem and a McDonald’s problem,” she said during an online question-and-answer session after screening her documentary at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday night. “You do have the ultimate power, more power than any CEO, as a consumer, to withhold your money from companies that are doing it wrong and spend it at companies that are doing it right.”

Abigail Disney, whose grandfather was the company’s co-founder and Walt’s brother, co-produced the film “The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales,” which follows the lives of several theme-park workers as well as her own progression into corporate activism. She’s been a critic of work conditions and low pay at Disney, once criticising former Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger’s compensation as “insane.”

The documentary notes that when her grandfather Roy O. Disney was CEO in 1967 he earned about 75 times the lowest-paid worker, and Disneyland employees in the 1950s and 1960s could afford to raise families, buy cars and houses with their incomes.

Current workers profiled in the film live with their parents and get groceries from food banks. In 2018, Iger earned more than 1,400 times the median employee’s pay. Recent negotiations will allow workers in its largest union in California to earn $18 an hour by 2023.

The company said in a statement it offers leading entry-level wages and benefits such as affordable medical coverage, tuition-free higher education and subsidized childcare. “The well-being and aspirations of our employees and cast will always be our top priority,” it said.

Abigail Disney said the company has been “just as abusive and exploitative of their customers” as they have been of their employees in recent years, “driving prices up to ridiculous levels and charging unbelievable amounts for hamburgers and so forth and stripping services away.”

“Withhold your money from the companies that are exploiting people,” she said. “You don’t really need to take a trip if you feel like it’s not a reflection of your values.”

The activist said PayPal Holdings Inc., Best Buy Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. are  examples of companies “on their way to the better thing.”

“I think there’s a natural affinity between customers and workers and they need to make common cause together to change companies,” she said.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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