Executive Paywatch highlights gap between rich CEOs and their workers

WASHINGTON (PAI) — Last year, Walmart CEO Michael Duke made – you can’t call it earned – $20.7 million in pay and compensation for running the world’s largest retailer. Half of his million plus workers earned less than $25,000 a year each, and tens of thousands must receive food stamps, housing vouchers and Medicaid to survive.

That comparison between the rich and what they pay the rest of us is a top highlight of this year AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch website, which federation President Richard Trumka fittingly unveiled on Income Tax Day, April 15.

“Tax day is a day when we all pitch in, right?” he asked at a press conference. “Yet for a small number of wealthy people, it represents making money from the sacrifice of others – a ridiculous amount of money.”

Using public filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, Paywatch calculated the average CEO last year earned $11.3 million in total compensation, 331 times the average wage for U.S. workers, $34,645. That’s down slightly from the 2012 ratio of 354-1, but it still means the average CEO earns in a day what the average worker earns in a year.

Thanks to the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, future data may be even more specific, Trumka and AFL-CIO investment office director Brandon Rees added: The federal agency is crafting rules to force firms to disclose the median compensation of their workers, and compare it to their executives, firm by firm. Rees and Trumka noted the corporate community is fighting hard against such disclosures.

The CEOs – led by Oracle CEO Lawrence Ellison, who earned $78.44 million-aren’t worth the money they make, Trumka said. “They’re probably worth several red cents,” he told one questioner. “By and large, their pay still goes up because the system is rigged.”

And Trumka noted the CEOs and their ilk have reaped 95percent  of the rewards since the formal financial end of the Great Recession, while quashing workers’ salaries and reporting record profits.

“They’re cannibalizing their customer base. That’s not only wrong, but it’s a bad investment and bad economics,” he added.

This year Paywatch highlights the huge compensation of the CEOs of five low-wage companies. Besides Duke at Walmart, it’s spotlighting John Bryant at Kellogg ($7.96 million), Reynolds American – the tobacco firm — (Daniel Delen, $10.45 million), Darden Restaurants (Clarence Otis, $6.35 million) and T-Mobile (John Legere, $8.75 million).

Two of those CEOs, Kellogg’s Bryant, and T-Mobile’s Legere, join Duke in another way:

Rampant labor law-breaking: Walmart has broken labor law at least 288 times in the past decade as the United Food and Commercial Workers have tried to organize its low-paid workers and as OURWalmart (Organization for Respect at Walmart) has stood up for them.

And the National Labor Relations Board is acting against Kellogg’s and T-Mobile for oppressing the firms’ workers.

The NLRB’s general counsel will ask a federal judge to order Kellogg’s to end its 6-months-and-counting lockout of 226 mostly minority workers, all Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers members, in its Memphis, Tenn., cereal plant. Bryant locked them out after they refused to approve a contract that would cut their pay, convert full-time jobs to part-time temp work, and trash their health insurance.

And the counsel will roll multiple cases of T-Mobile labor law-breaking into one giant case, to be heard in Albuquerque, N.M., after a current hearing ends in Wichita. All involve the Communications Workers‘ organizing drive among T-Mobile call center and retail workers. CWA says Legere and other execs in T-Mobile’s headquarters direct the pattern of violations.

Darden Restaurants, such as Olive Garden, pay workers the tipped minimum wage, $2.13 an hour, which hasn’t risen since 1991, Trumka noted. The workers are supposed to make up the difference between that and the current federal minimum of $7.25 hourly, in tips. They don’t, a worker explains on Paywatch.

And non-union workers who harvest tobacco for Reynolds aren’t even eligible for the minimum wage. They’re farmworkers, and paid for piecework.

The AFL-CIO is using the data in its ongoing campaign to curb corporate pay and perks and make them relate more to the real economy and what workers earn, Trumka says. Another part of the site grades mutual funds on how they vote their shares on executive pay packages. That shows which funds actively insist on accountability and which ones get-along-go-along with execs’ high pay, lavish perks and golden parachutes.

Paywatch also breaks down CEO pay by state and by industry, so workers can see what their bosses earn compared to the bosses “peer group” – other CEOs. CEOs know those figures, too, Trumka said, since they often sit on other firms’ compensation committees, which set execs’ pay.

The Paywatch site covers publicly traded companies, which must file data with the SEC. It does not cover associations, unions or privately held firms. A separate study, by the respected research publication National Journal, covered 614 of those groups with significant lobbying spending in Washington, with 2011 or 2012 data, the latest available for them.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell led that crowd, by miles. If he was on the Paywatch list, he’d be 12th, at $44.1 million. Goodell’s union counterpart, DeMaurice Smith of the NFL Players Association, is the highest-paid union leader, at $2.73 million and $79,960 in deferred compensation. Trumka earned $286,050 and $96,627 in deferred compensation.

Photo: OURWalmart


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.