“It appears that — prior to, and during the pandemic — Disney took good care of its top executives and shareholders — and is now hanging its front-line workers out to dry,” Warren wrote in the letter.
Disney did not respond to a request for comment. The company has previously described the layoffs as a “difficult” decision caused by the “prolonged impact” of the pandemic on its theme parks and other businesses. Disney has also indicated it hopes to eventually rehire workers.
The Warren letter is the latest example of tough criticism aimed at Disney’s spending priorities during the pandemic.
“WHAT THE ACTUAL F***?????” Abigail Disney tweeted.
In May, Disney announced it wouldn’t pay a dividend for the first half of its fiscal year because of the disruption caused by the pandemic. The company has not said whether it will pay a dividend for the second half of the year.
Pay practices under scrutiny
Warren gave Disney credit for continuing to provide health care benefits to furloughed workers over the past six months. However, she argued that in the years prior to the crisis Disney “prioritized the enrichment of executives and shareholders,” decisions that “weakened Disney’s financial cushion and ability to retain and pay its frontline workers amid the pandemic.”
For instance, the letter said Disney paid more than $338 million in total compensation to its top 20 executives in the three year prior to the health crisis. Warren cited a summary of SEC filings made by Disney.
However, Warren said that base salaries represent a small portion of Disney executives overall compensation, which typically includes lucrative stock rewards.
“Thousands of laid off employees will now have to worry about how to keep foot on the table as executives begin receiving hefty paychecks again,” the senator wrote.
Theme park layoffs in California and Florida
“As you can imagine, a decision of this magnitude is not easy,” Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, wrote in a memo to about the mass layoffs. “We’ve cut expenses, suspended capital projects, furloughed our cast members while still paying benefits, and modified our operations to run as efficiently as possible, however, we simply cannot responsibly stay fully staffed while operating at such limited capacity.”
In the company’s public statement on the layoffs, D’Amaro partially blamed California’s “unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen.”
In her letter to Disney, Warren took issue with the company’s comments on California.
“While your company has blamed your decision to lay off thousands of workers on California public health measures, which were implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Warren wrote, “nearly 6,400 of the employees you laid off are actually in Florida.”
Warren requested that “no later than” October 27 Disney provide answers to a series of questions, including whether the company will provide health care coverage to laid off workers and how it decided which employees to let go.
CNN Business’ Frank Pallotta contributed to this report.