Abigail Disney has escalated her campaign against excessive boardroom pay at the company her grandfather co-founded by calling for it to cut bonuses for top executives in half and give the money to its lowliest paid workers.
The heiress and documentary film-maker, who in a string of tweets on Sunday said the $65.7m Disney CEO Bob Iger earned last year was “insane”, wrote in an editorial published by the Washington Post that Walt Disney should cut boardroom pay to “help rebuild the American middle class”.
Disney could set aside half of its executive bonus pool to give the bottom decile of workers an extra $2,000, Ms Disney claimed. She said this would double the reward that 125,000 of Disney’s rank and file employees received last year, when they earned a bonus of $1,000 each. Mr Iger’s total compensation last year was 1,424 times the median salary of a Disney worker, she said.
“At the pay levels we are talking about, an executive giving up half his bonus has zero effect on his quality of life,” she wrote. “For the people at the bottom, it could mean a ticket out of poverty or debt. It could offer access to decent healthcare or an education for a child.”
Disney has responded to the criticisms by saying that it had “made historic investments” in employee earnings, including a starting hourly wage of $15 at Disneyland and a $150m initiative to pay for hourly workers’ college educations.
By putting her concerns over Mr Iger’s pay package within the context of inequality in the US, Ms Disney is adding her voice to that of a group of high-profile business people who have expressed concerns about the nation’s wealth gap.
Earlier this month, billionaire hedge fund founder Ray Dalio warned that falling living standards for the poor could lead to “great conflict and some form of revolution” unless the capitalist system in the US was reformed. JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon used his latest annual shareholders letter to lay out a 10-point manifesto to address the issue. Meanwhile, Starbucks’ former boss Howard Schultz and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates have argued that the country’s wealthiest should pay more tax.
Ms Disney said last week that she did not own that many shares in Disney and that her campaign against high boardroom pay at the business is personal and does not necessarily express the views of other members of her family.
Mr Iger, who has led successful acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, has become one of the five best-paid CEO’s in the US, according to a study by Equilar, an executive compensation consultancy. His compensation last year included $26.3m of stock units that rewarded him for Disney’s $71bn deal to buy 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets.
But Ms Disney also castigated the company for spending $125m to pay regular workers $1,000 bonuses last year, while also buying back $3.6bn of shares of the company “to drive up its stock price and thus enrich its shareholders”.
This, Ms Disney argued, was a “significant new investment in wealth inequality” because “85 per cent of stocks are held by the richest people in the country”.
Get alerts on Executive Pay when a new story is published