Abigail Disney might the most interesting wealthy American who didn't actually earn her own money. At the least, she's one of the most vocal.
Recently, she revealed she went "undercover," visiting Disneyland in California -- after an employee there sent her a Facebook message complaining about working conditions.
She's the granddaughter of Disney Co. co-founder Roy Disney, and the great-niece of Walt Disney. And she says she wasn't happy with what she saw at the supposed "happiest place on Earth."
"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,'" Abigail Disney said afterward. "I was so livid."
Now, three points:
- First, this all comes from an interview Abigail Disney gave to Yahoo Finance's show Through Her Eyes, which was partly based on an article in the Financial Times. Her message has to do with income inequality, including an objection to the idea that CEO Bob Iger makes more than 1,000 times what the median Disney employee makes.
- Second, this means we have a Yahoo show -- owned by a media conglomerate where the division CEO (Verizon Media) reportedly makes about $12.75 million and the parent CEO (Verizon Communications) reportedly makes $22.2 million -- criticizing the CEO of a rival media company for making $65 million.
- Finally, I really wish I had more of an understanding of what "undercover" means here, and more detail about what Abigail says she did and found at Disneyland. I'd like to take her at her word about the "foraging for food in other people's garbage" conversation, but let's just say a bit of context would be nice.
Still, the larger point, and her overall message are at least consistent. She said she wrote a long email to Iger afterward -- an executive she apparently respects -- to say she wishes he'd do more to close the wealth gap.
"One of the things I said to him was, 'You know, you're a great CEO by any measure, perhaps even the greatest CEO in the country right now,'" Disney told Yahoo. "'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."
Iger's reply put her in touch with Disney's human resources department. She says she followed up, but never heard back again. I don't think she expected more, frankly.
Of course, the counterargument to the pay gap is that Disney (the company) under Iger has enjoyed massive profits and shareholder rewards.
And Abigail Disney isn't on the board at Disney, so it's not as if she has any power except for this bully pulpit. Her connection is about her name. Her inheritance, by the way, is reportedly about $120 million, although she says she's given away about $70 million to charity so far.
I find that part fascinating. So many of us spend so much time working in order to earn money to buy the things we need to support our families: Food, shelter, health, education, fun.
What would you do with your time if none of those concerns existed -- because a relative you never knew or barely remember left you a lot of money?
"Let me tell you about the very rich," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote nearly 100 years ago. "They are different from you and me."
Likewise, I admit that I can't imagine what the world looks like through the eyes of almost anyone in this story: not Iger, not Disney, and not the Disneyland workers Abigail says told her that they're foraging for food in garbage cans.
And while there's a part of me that looks at this story as an early warning sign for the entire country's mood, it's a bit too much of a leap to really spell that out here, in late 2019.
So, instead, I'll just end with the Disney company's side of the story.
I didn't hear back from a request for comment, but the company did give the following statement to The Hill, when it reported on Abigail Disney's "undercover" visit and the resulting exchange with Iger:
"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.
Our Disney Aspire initiative is the most comprehensive employee education program in the country, covering 100 percent of all tuition costs, books, and fees so our hourly workers can pursue higher education free of charge, and graduate free of debt."