UAW Strike Spotlights CEO-Worker Pay Gap

Last year, the CEOs of the Big Three U.S. automakers received staggering pay packages, fueling workers’ ongoing push for better wages and benefits. 

Strikers and supporters in the early hours Friday at a Ford plant in Wayne, Michingan. (UAW, Twitter)

By Jake Johnson
Common Dreams

Forty percent.

It’s a figure that United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain cited repeatedly in the run-up to the union’s historic strike against the Big Three U.S. car manufacturers as he called attention to the exorbitant compensation of the companies’ top executives.

Over the past four years, the CEOs of General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis have seen their total pay jump by 40 percent while the wages of the companies’ ordinary employees have risen by just 6 percent. The Economic Policy Institute observed earlier this week that autoworker wages across the U.S. have fallen by 19.3 percent since 2008.

Last year, the CEOs of the Big Three automakers received staggering pay packages, fueling workers’ ongoing push for better wages and benefits. Ford’s Jim Farley took home around $21 million, Stellantis’ Carlos Tavares pocketed nearly $25 million and General Motors’ Mary Barra — the highest-paid of the group—brought in roughly $29 million.

Carlos Tavares at the Chantilly Arts & Elegance in 2017. (Y.Leclercq, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Barra has received more than $200 million in compensation since becoming GM’s CEO in 2014.

“We’ve went backwards in the last 16 years — backwards — while the CEOs gave themselves 40 percent pay increases in the last four years alone,” Fain said from a picket line in Michigan early Friday. “And they want to call us greedy.”

The contrast between CEO and worker pay at the large, profitable automakers is striking.

The shareholder advocacy nonprofit As You Sow, which tracks CEO-to-worker pay gaps at U.S. companies, noted Friday that Ford’s chief executive made 281 times as much as the company’s median worker last year.

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The gap was even larger at General Motors, where Barra was paid 362 times more than the automaker’s median employee in 2022.

In a CNN interview on Friday, Barra insisted it is fair that General Motors is only offering its workers a 20 percent pay increase over the course of a four-year contract after she got a 34 percent compensation boost over the past four years. 

Rosanna Landis Weaver, director of wage justice and executive compensation at As You Sow, said in a statement Friday that “as a consequence of out-of-control executive compensation, shareholders are now faced with striking workers at a critical juncture as these companies transition to EV production.”

“UAW members see the CEO pay disparity as a measurement of how they are undervalued,” said Weaver. “Skyrocketing CEO pay is linked to worker dissatisfaction and lower profits, making excessive pay a distinct material risk that shareholders must take seriously.”

Progressive lawmakers who have expressed solidarity with the UAW’s fight for a fair contract have also condemned runaway executive compensation and declining worker wages.

“The Big Three auto companies have already raked in $20 billion in profits this year. Their CEOs make millions. They can afford to pay their employees a living wage,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) wrote on social media Friday. “I’m standing with UAW as they start their strike. We got you!”

Fain early on Friday at a Ford plant in Wayne, Michingan. (UAW, Twitter)

In an appearance on MSNBC Thursday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) noted that “over the last 20 years, real wages for automobile workers have gone down by 30 percent when you account for inflation” as CEO pay has risen.

“I really applaud the courage of Shawn Fain and the workers at the UAW for standing up and saying: ‘You know what? Enough is enough,'” Sanders added. “No one thinks that three people on top should own more wealth than the bottom half of American society. That CEOs are making 400 times more than their workers — that’s not what this country is supposed to be about. That’s what the UAW is telling the American people, and I think there’s massive support for what they’re trying to do.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, CEO compensation at the top publicly traded companies in the U.S. grew by 1,460 percent between 1978 and 2021 while typical worker pay grew by just 18.1 percent.

Robert Reich, the former U.S. labor secretary, argued in a blog post Thursday that the combination of “humongous executive pay packages,” massive automaker profits, low wages for hourly employees, and tiered pay systems that harm newer workers have increased “the likelihood of a long strike.”

“CEO pay at the Big Three is out of sight,” Reich noted. “Overall, CEO pay rose 40 percent over the last four years. And that’s not counting all the other executive salaries under the CEOs that have been ratcheted upward as CEO pay has gone through the roof.”

Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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16 comments for “UAW Strike Spotlights CEO-Worker Pay Gap

  1. Donna B Bubb
    September 18, 2023 at 19:33

    None of these famous corporations would even exist without the workers and none of these super-wealthy CEOs would be
    where they are today without what the workers have made and maintain. Workers need to wake up and form stronger
    unions that bring the greed down to fair share.

  2. Share
    September 18, 2023 at 08:41

    A fraction of a union goes on strike.
    Is that really a union striking?
    Dividing a union into 3 companies and then The Rest is more Divide and Conquer crap, leaving The Rest in essence scabs working ever more to replace the labor of the 3 striking companies.
    Abraham Lincoln knew that the United in United States wasn’t just 3 states, but ALL. WTF

  3. Anon
    September 17, 2023 at 17:26

    Guessing “Reuther” & “Everyman” are AKAs… Whatever the case tnx said commenters 4 Educating this CN reader… Your accounts read as credible info from knowledgeable insiders!
    (& Tnx CN who knew what extra value “Comment” could provide)!

  4. CaseyG
    September 17, 2023 at 14:39

    Dear American Public:

    IF the CEOs were’t paid such ridiculous amounts, both the workers and the public would prosper so easily.
    GREED , you CEOs, is just so unattractive. Cut the CEOS pay, raise the workers and you will sell a lot more vehicles. : )

  5. Walter Reuther
    September 17, 2023 at 00:44

    Never met any of them, have you?

    The words ‘sociopath’ and ‘psychopath’ are typically used to describe their behavior. And yet, people in the 2020’s are surprised that they aren’t kind, nice and generous?

    The unions of the 1920’s and 30’s had learned the hard way what they are like, and what it really takes to make them do the right thing. The unions today just want to ask nicely with a smile and a kind word. And that gets what Al Capone would have predicted.

  6. Wakter Reuther
    September 17, 2023 at 00:34

    The UAW, with a membership that is unified behind a strike, has decided to call meaningless ‘show’ strikes spread across three auto manufacturers, just to make sure that no one company feels any pain or even inconvenience due to the strike. Wall Street Analysts are pointing out that this strike will be GOOD for the companies, as it only targets the final stage of production and will help the auto companies deal with extra inventory on hand currently. This UAW strike just raised the stock value of the corporations on the markets Friday.

    This is obviously what the UAW leadership (elected by a small minority of UAW members) has negotiated with the big auto companies and the Biden administration. A show strike that does not hurt the companies, whom the UAW regards as their ‘partners’. Meanwhile, the workers are forced to work ‘mandatory overtime’ to help build up the inventories of the companies in case there is a bigger strike to come, and to do so without a contract.

    Meanwhile, the negotiations with the companies are regarded as Top Secret, and not to be shared with the union members.

    This is how you defuse worker power. The current unions would not know how to win if it bit them on the …. They haven’t ‘won’ in decades.

  7. Atul
    September 16, 2023 at 16:22

    Every once in a while, a small scuffle turns into a roaring, unstoppable battle.
    Everyone in the US knows that the wealthy are cheating the rest of us, and this resolve and intelligence of the UAW could easily be the spark that ignites the whole system of inequity into an inferno.
    I’m surprised the CEOs getting a 40% raise at 20 million don’t see the ridiculousness of offering less to the people actually doing the work.
    People in power think nothing can stop them, until it does. Not holding my breath for a just resolution, but this feels like a beginning.

  8. Greg
    September 16, 2023 at 14:51

    I remember when obama said ‘I’ll walk on that picket line’ in 2007 then when the time came to do so in Wisconsin in 2012, we discovered he really meant ‘I’ll run away from that picket line as far and fast as possible’.
    When is obama going to get called out for being the right wing corporate lackey and enthusiastic terrorist that he really wa?

  9. JonnyJames
    September 16, 2023 at 13:31

    Sadly, Sanders and Reich are rank hypocrites and disingenuous. They have shown time and again that they are sheepdogs for the DNC: they point out some obvious facts, then at the end of the day tell us to support the criminal D/R dictatorship and support the status-quo. It’s always the same BS:”we must ‘vote’ for the D criminal because the R criminal is worse.” What irrational nonsense
    Fool me once….

    It’s time to start a conversation about the lack of functioning democracy, so we can emerge from the Denial Phase. “the US is an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery” (Jimmy Carter)

    in the US “there is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs” (Chris Hedges)

    Mr. Hedges has referenced the classic Sheldon Wolin work: Democracy Inc. I also highly recommend reading it.

  10. September 16, 2023 at 11:56

    “Let them eat cake” – Mary Barra

  11. Jack Everman
    September 16, 2023 at 11:55

    The power of the once mighty UAW was broken in the early to mid 00s, by the one-two punch of outsourcing of jobs, and the insourcing of a constant supply of excess labor through the Elites’ open borders policy, which, of course, still remains in effect, with an estimated 50 million poor working people now living in the US who were born elsewhere.

    In the period around ’05 to ’06 or so, I was working closely with UAW dissidents, who wanted their union to make a stand through more aggressive political activity. But union executives are highly paid business executives who no longer share the same interests as working people. I think it was in ’06, if I recall, that the UAW Fat Cats forced a disastrous contract down their membership’s throats, a contract which cut wages for new hires in half. (In HALF!).

    Union Fat Cats ALL support the tyrannical Democratic Party, which, of course, still refuses to enforce our nations immigration laws. These Democratic Party tyrants throw out policy crumbs to Labor, (like the recent card check proposal by the NLRB), like the rich ‘optimates’ in Ancient Rome amused themselves by throwing bread crumbs to the hungry ‘populares’, to watch the wretches fight and grovel among themselves. Are any so naive that they think that under our current regime of Ruling Elite tyranny that the NLRB is going to magically start supporting labor against the power of the Elites’? That card check proposal is still a LONG ways from anything resembling a concrete benefit. After the election ya think it might be subject to limiting modification?

    Open borders is a policy that has been promulgated by tyrannical edict, with zero democratic input from anybody. No new law was passed by Congress. The tyrants who now rule over us simply refuse to enf0rce the nation’s existing laws, because a constant supply of excess labor undercuts the interests of all working people and benefits the interests of the Elites.

    With an estimated 165,000 destitute immigrants pouring into our nation every month, (some 5500 per day), American Labor is just fooling itself if it thinks it can make any meaningful improvements in the lives of working people with such a huge supply of excess labor already on hand and still growing.

    Do these UAW workers think they can bring these powerful companies to heel? How does the cost for these companies to give a 40% pay hike compare to the cost of simply closing these US plants and opening new ones in Mexico? Mexico already has a large base of skilled autoworkers building cars for the US market.

    This writer, Jake Johnson, and the outfit he works for, CommonDreams, are enthusiastic supporters of both the tyrannical Democratic Party, and even more so of the Dems open borders policy. He enthusiastically supports the Elites’ policy of importing masses of excess labor, and enthusiastically supports the Democratic Party’s tyrannical behavior, such as weaponizing the powers of government to prosecute and imprison its political opponents.

    Worst of all, Jake Johnson accuses anyone who objects to our de facto open borders policy of being a ‘racist’, which is absurd. An estimated 75% of African Americans strongly oppose all immigration. The people on the caboose of the train are barely hanging on as it is. You think they want these destitute immigrants jumping on to try to elbow them off? Being opposed to open borders has absolutely NO relationship to racism. Working people oppose open borders because open borders make working people have to compete ever more intensely for survival.

    Boss Man to workers on Friday afternoon, still holding their paycheck in his fist: “Awright listen up! Pay next week is going down by 2 bucks an hour. Anybody don’t like it, I got a line of immigrants down at Home Depot who say they’ll work for $4 an hour less than you mopes are makin’. Every ONE of ’em has calloused hands and a well worn tool belt over his shoulder. You don’t like it? We got a democracy here. You can vote with your feet.”

    • J Anthony
      September 17, 2023 at 08:32

      Those elitist policies you speak of are bipartisan. So is “weaponizing the powers of government” against political opponents. One has to have one’s head up one’s rear to think they’re exclusively Dem tactics.

  12. jo6pac
    September 16, 2023 at 11:39

    Handy chart on who gets what in this battle and it’s not the workers.


  13. Alan Ross
    September 16, 2023 at 11:07

    Shawn Fain is a real union leader not one of those a-kissing creeps like Michael Mulgrew of the UFT.

  14. Jeff Harrison
    September 16, 2023 at 09:11

    Go UAW! The management-type weenies that think they are soooo much better than the people who actually make the products need a dose of reality. A good long strike forcing management to actually make stuff would be good for them.

  15. responseTwo
    September 16, 2023 at 07:28

    As a World Socialist Web Site reader, I don’t see Shawn Fain doing much for the working people. In the end, he is aligned with the corporation. Here is an example:


    Bernie sanders always backs off from his rhetoric. He is a DNC loyalist that is afraid to leave the democrat party.

    I hope I’m wrong.

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