The conversation on Tuesday between Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Radhika Jones and Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger and filmmaker Jon Favreau was largely about the upcoming Disney+ streaming series Star Wars: The Mandalorian. But toward the end of their chat, Jones put the media conglom boss in the hot seat over his $66 million compensation last year, as well as his thoughts on a wealth tax that’s being pitched by Democratic presidential candidates.
“We’re in the middle of a really robust political conversation about excessive wealth, and the idea it’s corrosive to democracy, and wondered what you thought about that and if specifically if either of you would support a wealth tax, of the kind that is being proposed by some of the Democratic candidates,” Jones asked.
“Jon, you wanna take that?” Iger joked turning to Favreau, which got an uproar from the audience at the Wallis Performing Arts Center in Beverly Hills.
Iger explained that the stock award “was a one-time grant, it’s not something that repeats itself year after year.” He said the payout was on account of the Disney-Fox merger going through, his “involvement in the dealmaking” and “responsibilities” he was taking on in increasing the size of the company.
“I was given that because I was leaving Disney this year, and I was given that as part of an agreement for me to stay three years,” defended Iger.
On the subject of a wealth tax, Iger expounded:
“I happen to believe that the whole subject of income inequality is very, very real. That companies like the Walt Disney Company and other large companies have a responsibility to look for solutions to improve the lives of the people who work for us. And we’re doing just that including things for the roughly 90,000 employees in the United States, paying free education for them, whether its high school equivalency, college, graduate degree, vocational, and we’re looking for more opportunities there. So, I happen to believe given where we are, societally today with a fair amount of challenge both political, social and economic, companies like Disney have a responsibility to step up and do their part.”
“I think we have to look at taxation in general as a country and figure out if there’s a tax plan that makes sense that transfers more wealth from a small set of individuals to a larger set of individuals,” he added.
Iger’s comments come in the wake of 10 Disney female employees filing a class action lawsuit against the conglom for being unfairly compensated compared with their male counterparts. Yesterday, Disney in a L.A. Superior Court document (read it here) said “The Disney Companies categorically deny that they pay any female employee less than her similarly situated male coworkers and will vigorously defend themselves against each Plaintiff’s individual claims…But that is all this case is–an assortment of individual claims, based on highly individualized allegations.” It was Disney’s way of saying that they’d prefer to take on each plaintiff individually than as a class action.
Longtime Walt Disney Studios employees LaRonda Rasmussen and Karen Moore instigated the suit on April 3 in a move for back pay, lost benefits and other compensation. They were joined by eight other women last month in an amended complaint that Disney now wants to see shredded – just like the attorneys for the product development manager, the copyright administrator and the others expected.
Rounding out his Vanity Fair time onstage, Iger was asked if there was a presidential candidate he was supporting.
Said Iger, “I’m not taking a public position on any candidate nor will I.”