Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Disneyland workers and supporters rally while protesting low pay and calling for a living wage at the Disneyland entrance on July 3, 2018 in Anaheim, California

Disneyland workers and supporters rally while protesting low pay and calling for a living wage at the Disneyland entrance on July 3, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Sen. Warren Slams Disney for 28,000 Fired Workers Amid Stock Buyback Spree

"It appears that—prior to, and during the pandemic—Disney took good care of its top executives and shareholders—and now is hanging its front-line workers out to dry."

Andrea Germanos

Sen. Elizabeth Warren tore into the CEO and chairman of the Walt Disney Company on Tuesday with a letter demanding they explain their decision to reward executives with huge payouts amid the coronavirus pandemic while laying off 28,000 employees.

"In the years leading up to this crisis, your company prioritized the enrichment of executives and stockholders through hefty compensation packages, and billions of dollars' worth of dividend payments and stock buybacks, all of which weakened Disney's financial cushion and ability to retain and pay its front-line workers amid the pandemic," the Massachusetts Democrat wrote in her letter (pdf) to executive chairman Robert Iger and CEO Bob Chapek.

"I would like to know whether Disney's financial practices have impacted the company's decision to lay off workers," she continued, "and whether your company plans to extend healthcare or other critical benefits and protections to laid off employees."

The senator's letter follows Disney's announcement last month that the company was laying off the workers.

In a September 29 memo, head of parks Josh D'Amaro told employees that the company had to make "some difficult decisions" and had "modified... operations to run as efficiently as possible" to weather the budget shortfall as a result of the pandemic. D'Amaro asserted that the layoffs were "the only feasible option we have in light of the prolonged impact of Covid-19 on our business, including limited capacity due to physical distancing requirements and the continued uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic."

Warren, in her letter, took issue with D'Amaro for blaming California's "unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen." Warren countered that the state-imposed measures "were implemented to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and save lives." What's more, she wrote, "nearly 6,400 of the employees you laid off are actually in Florida. And just last week, another 8,857 part-time employees were laid off, also in Florida."

The senator took further issue with the memo for "fail[ing] to acknowledge Disney's short-sighted business decisions that reduced its capital, including spending billions of dollars to repurchase its own shares over the last decade, rewarding its shareholders through billions of dollars in dividend payments, and showering its top company executives with over-the-top compensation packages and salaries—which reportedly were restored several weeks before the September layoff announcement."

While acknowledging that Iger and Chapek reduced their own salaries in April in light of the economic impact of the pandemic, the senator said the cuts represented a mere "drop in the bucket" and were short-lived. Warren continued:

For example, Mr. Iger earned a total of $65.6 million in 2018 and $47 million in 2019 as a result of this compensation package; hence, his pandemic-inspired salary cut amounted to roughly 3.3% percent of his total compensation in 2019. Similarly, Mr. Chapek, who recently was promoted to CEO, was in line to earn up to $22.5 million in bonuses in addition to his base salary. Even worse, reports indicated that Disney was restoring the meager proposed cuts to executive pay in August 2020—just weeks before the announcement of the 28,000 worker layoffs.

Warren issued an October 27 deadline for answers to a number of questions about the company's recent moves, including whether it would provide healthcare coverage and cover premiums for laid-off employees.

She also demanded to know the total value of stock buybacks made by Disney in each quarter over the past four years, the increase those buybacks had on stock value, and how they may have specifically benefited Disney's top executives. 

"It appears that—prior to, and during the pandemic—Disney took good care of its top executives and shareholders," wrote Warren, "and now is hanging its front-line workers out to dry."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Biden Drilling Report Blasted as 'Shocking Capitulation to the Needs of Corporate Polluters'

"Greenlighting more fossil fuel extraction, then pretending it's OK by nudging up royalty rates, is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," said one campaigner.

Jessica Corbett ·


UNESCO Members Adopt First Global AI Ethics Agreement 'To Benefit Humanity'

"We're at a critical juncture in history," said Ethics in Tech founder Vahid Razavi. "We need as humans to come together and decide what is the best course of action to take with these technologies before they surpass us in their abilities."

Brett Wilkins ·


Progressive US Lawmakers Mark Black Friday With Calls to Pass the PRO Act

"The right to organize, fight for better working conditions, and fair pay must always be protected."

Jessica Corbett ·


'We Are Fighting Back': Global Black Friday Strikes and Protests Seek to #MakeAmazonPay

"We are workers and activists divided by geography and our role in the global economy but united in our commitment to Make Amazon Pay fair wages, its taxes, and for its impact on the planet."

Kenny Stancil ·


'It Was Entirely Avoidable': Rich Countries Blamed as New Covid Variant Sparks Global Alarm

"Allowing new variants to emerge and spread, 13 months into the vaccine era, is a policy choice by the rich world."

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo