I’ve loosely been following the Writers Guild of America strike, which has now been joined by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. I feel like I’m watching a dystopian movie but here’s the kicker, it’s all really happening.
The CEO of Disney, Bob Iger, said during an interview at the Sun Valley annual conference, which has been touted as a “summer camp for billionaires,” that he thinks those on strike are “unrealistic.”
“There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic,” he told CNBC. “And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.” He added that while he respects the right of the unions to “get as much as they possibly can in compensation for their people,” they must “be realistic about the business environment, and what this business can deliver.”
How about some context? Iger recently took over again at Disney and he has the potential to earn up to $27 million in 2023, his first full year as returned CEO. Let’s break that down a bit further. He is paid $74,175 per day whereas Hollywood writers earn on average $69,510 a year. Abigail Disney, a documentary producer who is also the daughter of Roy E. Disney said in a tweet, “You can only call your workers and partners ‘unrealistic’ if you cannot see beyond the confines of the very narrow and morally bankrupt business ideology that has set your company on this long track toward exploitation and injustice.”
Amen! Actor Sean Gunn had this to say about Iger’s comments: “I think when Bob Iger talks about, ‘What a shame it is,’ he needs to remember that in the 1980s, CEOs like him made 30 times more than what the lowest worker was making. Now Bob Iger makes 400 times what his lowest worker is and I think that’s a f***ing shame, Bob. Maybe you should take a look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Why is that?’ and not only why is that, is it okay? Is it morally okay? Is it ethically okay that you make much more than your lowest worker?”
Apparently, we as a society think it is. Iger isn’t the only CEO to make hundreds of times more than the lowest-paid worker. An article in the Guardian from a year ago found that in the top 300 U.S. companies, the wage gap is 670 to 1. CEOs are making an average of $10.6 million while the median worker is getting $23,968.
I can’t really conceptualize a million because it just sounds like a really big number. To break it down into something more understandable, 1 million seconds is approximately 11 days. How much do you think 1 billion seconds is? It’s more than 31 years. Years. Billionaires can’t possibly spend all the money they have – and you can try using the calculator https://neal.fun/spend/. Billionaires can purchase multiple mansions, make multiple movies, buy multiple yachts, purchase the Mona Lisa, and still have a lot of money left over. A LOT.
No one person should have that much wealth and that’s why we need a maximum wage. We have a minimum wage, why don’t we have a maximum on how much one person can earn? I know, I know, everyone in the U.S. thinks they are temporarily embarrassed millionaires so fine, put the cap at a million dollars and make sure the lowest-paid worker is earning more too. In cooperative business models, the wage gap is much smaller. The highest-paid executive at Mondragon Corporation makes six times that of its lowest-paid employee.
Lest you think this is some kind of mom-and-pop operation, Mondragon employs around 80,000 people and its businesses include schools, a large grocery chain, a catering company, 14 technology R&D centers, and a McKinsey-like consulting firm. In 2021, the network brought in more than 11 billion euros in revenue.
You can succeed in business while also being more equitable and Mondragon is an example of that. To bring it back to the writers’ and actors’ strike, what I fear will happen is the studio execs will raise prices for consumers in order to keep lining their greedy pockets. But what I would like to happen is for our country’s artists to say, “No, Bob, you don’t get to make 400 times more than I do,” and then force a maximum wage on him. Stranger things can happen. This is Hollywood we’re talking about after all.
I dream of a world where there’s a cap on wealth. A world where one person isn’t allowed to accumulate billions while others must work multiple jobs just to survive. A world where the highest-paid worker makes no more than 10 times the lowest-paid one. A world where we remember there’s enough for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.