“We have chased large swaths of Americans into a box canyon and then blamed them for being trapped,” she told members of the House Financial Services Committing at a hearing on strengthening the rights and protections of workers.
“Bob Iger is a nice man, a brilliant manager, and so are most CEOs. But corporate excess has become so normalized that they and their peers can’t really see the problem anymore,” she said Wednesday.
The company has pushed back, saying it pays workers above the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage.
“We need to change the way we understand and practice capitalism,” Disney told members of the House committee.
“Yes, managers have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders. But they also have a legal and moral responsibility to deliver returns to shareholders without trampling on the dignity and rights of their employees and other stakeholders,” she added.
Disney argues that there is nothing inherently wrong with a big payday for executives as long as workers can support themselves. She urged lawmakers to consider examining the pay ratio between CEOs and their lowest-paid full-time workers, rather than that between the C-suite and median income-level employees — which some Democrats have called for.
“The median ratio is not a helpful ratio. It treats the lowest paid worker as if they were invisible,” she said.
Some Republican members of the committee challenged Disney to say what pay is fair for a CEO, and what rate is a livable wage. She said, in response, that not every CEO should be paid the same and a liveable wage is not the same in every city.
“The point I am trying to make is we are throwing around numbers here on appropriate CEO pay, what CEO pay should be … but there aren’t any specifics on how we will do that,” said Indiana Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, adding that an attempt to figure out what those rates are would result in “socialism.”
The hearing also addressed a Democratic proposal to require public companies to disclose more information on employee pay.
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Sean Duffy asked Disney what she earns and what she pays her lowest-level worker in her home. Disney said she earns between $5 million and $6 million, pays her her lowest-level worker about $75,000 a year — and donates between $7 million and $8 million annually.
Later in the day, a spokeswoman for Disney said she misheard the question and has other employees whom she pays less, though she pays her housekeeper $75,000.
Republicans also drew attention to the fact that the Democratic committee leaders allowed Disney to have a private film crew at the hearing.
Disney said she is hoping to make a documentary on income inequality and that footage from the hearing might be useful.
When asked if the filming would be for a for-profit entity, Disney said the film might end up making money but that she wouldn’t see any of it.