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July 23, 2019, 12:49 p.m. EDT · CORRECTED

Disney heiress ‘livid’ after speaking with workers from her family’s theme parks

Abigail Disney said distressed workers told her about ‘foraging for food in other people’s garbage’

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By Nicole Lyn Pesce

A previous version of this article stated that Abigail Disney made comments on Disneyland worker conditions after a visit to the theme park, based on her statement in a Yahoo News interview that she’d gone to Anaheim, which the outlet phrased as going “undercover.” Disney has clarified that her conversations with Disney workers occurred at an offsite union office in Anaheim.


Getty Images
Union employees protest for higher wages at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif.

So much for the “Happiest Place on Earth.” The heiress to the Disney fortune recently spoke with employees from one of its theme parks, and says the visit made her “livid.”

Abigail Disney told the Yahoo News show “Through Her Eyes” that a worker sent her a Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB +1.18% message expressing how tragic being employed at the Magic Kingdom has become. So she decided to find out for herself.

Yahoo initially reported that she went “undercover” to speak with workers, but she later clarified to both Yahoo and another news outlet that she did not go to the Disneyland theme park, but rather met with Disney workers at an offsite union office in Anaheim, Calif.

“I went to Anaheim, and I wanted to be sure I understood the situation and the context really, really well. Every single one of these people I talked to were saying, ‘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,’” Disney, 59, told Yahoo News host and human rights activist Zainab Salbi in an interview posted Monday.

Disney is the granddaughter of the late Roy Disney, who co-founded the Walt Disney Co. /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS +2.06% with his brother, Walt Disney. She does not have an active role in the company. Disney said that her grandfather would not approve of the current working conditions at the parks he helped create.

‘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.’

Abigail Disney

She added that, “these people are much of the recipe for success …. when my grandfather worked there, he hired people there to have a job for life.”

This isn’t the first time that Abigail Disney has criticized how the Mickey Mouse company and its CEO, Bob Iger, are treating its lowest-paid employees. The Walt Disney Co. employs more than 200,000 people worldwide.

In April, she said that Iger’s $65 million pay package is “insane” at a Fast Company Impact Council discussion of “human capitalism,” noting his compensation is 1,424 times that of the median Disney employee. She also told CNBC that “Jesus Christ himself isn’t worth 500 times his median worker’s pay.”

Related: Disney heiress: Jesus Christ himself doesn’t deserve this much money

A 2018 survey conducted by on behalf of a group of unions found that nearly three-quarters of full- and part-time employees (73%) said that they didn’t earn enough money working at Disneyland Resort to pay for basic expenses each month. More than half were worried about being evicted, and about one-tenth reported being homeless in the previous two years.

Related: Some Disneyland staff say they struggle with homelessness and food insecurity

Disney, whose own net worth is $120 million, joined a group of 19 ultrawealthy Americans, including George Soros, who signed an open letter to the 2020 presidential candidates last month calling for a moderate wealth tax on the richest 1% to help reduce inequality. She recently told the Cut that she has donated $70 million to charity over the past 30 years.

She also told Yahoo in the new interview that she’d emailed Iger her concerns, telling him he was “a great CEO by any measure, perhaps even the greatest CEO in the country right now,” and urging him to “be known as the guy who led to a better place, because that is what you have the power to do.” She said she was referred to the HR department.

The Walt Disney Co. responded in an email statement to MarketWatch on Wednesday that, “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.”

A spokesperson previously told MarketWatch that the company offers a starting minimum wage of $15 an hour, as well as free education opportunities, and health-care benefits for hourly workers starting at $6 a week. Hourly workers at the Orlando and Anaheim parks make an average of $19.50 an hour. Its Disney Aspire initiative also covers 100% of all tuition costs, books and fees so our hourly workers can pursue higher education for free, and without falling into student loan debt.

/zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 197.40
+2.30 +1.18%
Volume: 16.17M
Nov. 18, 2019 4:00p
P/E Ratio
31.53
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$556.52 billion
Rev. per Employee
$1.57M
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/zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 147.65
+2.98 +2.06%
Volume: 15.35M
Nov. 18, 2019 4:10p
P/E Ratio
21.22
Dividend Yield
1.19%
Market Cap
$260.61 billion
Rev. per Employee
$295,532
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