Executive Pay Gaps VS. Workers Grows Huge

WASHINGTON —How large is the pay gap between America’s CEOs and the rest of us?

Try this: The “median” CEO earns the equivalent of your yearly pay, every day.

That’s what the latest edition of “Executive Paywatch,” the AFL-CIO’s website, using federal data, shows about the ratio of median executive pay and perks to the median income of U.S. workers. It’s now 354-1. In 1982, it was 42-1.

And sometimes the present huge disparity understates the case.

The “median” CEO earned $12.3 million in pay and perks – such as stock options and deferred compensation – last year, compared to $34,645 for the “median” worker. The median is the point at which half the group is above the figure and half below.

Some CEOs are way above: Google’s Eric Schmidt led the list last year, with pay and perks totaling $100.98 million. Oracle’s Lawrence Ellison was second, $4 million behind Schmidt. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves finished third, at $69.9 million.

“What a lot of people in Washington forget is how hard the American people are struggling” to earn enough money to pay their bills, federation President Richard Trumka told an April 15 press conference. “And they’re angry about it,” he added.

“But they still know very little” about the real chasm between the rich and the rest of us, he stated. “This will give them the information to write to the CEOs, to Congress and to leaders” in protest.

And they’ve got a lot to protest, the website, www.paywatch.org, shows. Among its findings:

• General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, among the top 100 CEOs with $25.8 million last year in pay and perks, led the league in getting his corporation to sock away profits overseas, avoiding U.S. taxes. GE stashed $108 billion away overseas, out of a total for all U.S. firms of $418 billion. A separate report from Americans for Tax Fairness, released the same day, showed GE paid 2.4% of its $88 billion in U.S. profits in taxes.

• A group of CEOs, including Immelt, are lobbying lawmakers to “fix the debt” – stem federal red ink – by reducing Social Security increases and raising the

retirement age to 70. The group includes the CEOs of Exxon, Microsoft and JPMorgan Chase and their firms account for a huge share of the profits shifted overseas. The AFL-CIO calculates that if those profits were taxed at the nominal U.S. corporate tax rate of 35%, the Treasury would garner more than $140 billion from the firms. Their effective tax rate now is 16%, Executive Paywatch says.

One of those CEOs wants to ban Social Security benefits from workers before they turn 70, while his own pay package lets him take retirement pay at 60. “That’s hypocritical,” Trumka says.

• At least one executive in the top 100, JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon ($23.1 million) heads a firm that benefited from the bank bailout after the Great Recession hit. The site also shows Dimon’s bank has stashed $25 billion in profits overseas.

• The pay gap ratio between U.S. CEOs and their workers far exceeds that in the rest of the world’s developed nations, including Germany, Japan and Great Britain. “Not only is U.S. CEO pay out-of-whack with historical norms, it is off the chart globally,” Trumka said. “For example, in Switzerland, where voters recently imposed new limits on executive pay, the CEO-to-worker pay gap is 148 times” that of the median worker. “In the United Kingdom, the CEO-to-worker pay gap is one-quarter as large as ours. And in Japan, the gap is even smaller.”

• Mutual funds, which are the biggest shareholders in many publicly traded companies, empower and approve the CEOs’ pay-and-perks packages. The Paywatch, for the first time, grades mutual funds on how they voted on “say on pay” shareholder resolutions and other pay and perk limits. Most flunked, approving the packages.

“Every one of these guys goes to his board and says ‘I should be compensated
above the industry average,’ so they move him up. And that raises the average, so the next year, they do it again,” Trumka says.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is considering a new rule that would force more transparency, and impose some limits, on executive pay and perks, Trumka said. He hopes the Paywatch site gives workers and consumers information to pressure the SEC to follow through. CEO lobbying has delayed other SEC-drafted executive pay limit plans, Trumka noted.

“We are calling out the hypocrisy of rich CEOs who have the gall to ask for corporate tax cuts to be paid for by squeezing the retirement security of working America. The public deserves to know the truth about their self-serving agenda,” Trumka said.