The Walt Disney Co. strongly disputed allegations from family heiress Abigail Disney, who said she found workers struggling when she recently visited Disneyland.
Abigail Disney, in an interview with Yahoo, said Disneyland workers told her they are forced to sift through "other people's garbage" for food, and they are struggling to stay happy. Abigail Disney said she went to Disneyland to observe worker conditions and was "so livid" at what she saw.
In a new statement, the company told CNN Business Wednesday that Abigail Disney's account is "particularly egregious" hyperbole. It said that it ordinarily does not comment on "baseless reports," but it wouldn't "let this stand."
"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 Disney spokesman said Wednesday. "We strongly disagree with this characterization of our employees and their experience at Disney."
The company said it currently pays its workers an average of $19.50 an hour, which is more than double the federal minimum wage. Disney pays Disney employees a starting hourly wage of $15. The company has also committed $150 million to its Disney Aspire program that pays for workers to earn a college, high school or vocational degree. And it offers a number of other benefits, including subsidized childcare, leave policies, and access to pharmacies and clinics.
Abigail Disney told Yahoo this week that the work culture her grandfather Roy Disney promoted of respecting employees had slowly declined. She didn't immediately respond to request for comment on Disney's response.
Disney insists that the company respects its workers and improves their lives.
"The men and women who make Disney parks such a special experience for millions of people are dedicated, hardworking and proud, and we will continue to listen to, empower and reward them," the company said. "That's what this company has done throughout its history and will continue to do in the future."
Abigail Disney has frequently spoken out about how much more CEO Bob Iger's makes compared to average Disney workers. 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.