Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

May 2, 1997

THE PAY DISPARITY between corporate chief executive officers (CEOs) and average factory workers grew by leaps and bounds in the years from 1965 to 1995.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO ) reports that in 1965 the average CEO was paid 44 times more than an average worker in the CEO's company -- $44 for the big boss to $l for the worker.

But by 1995, the last year for which complete statistics are available, the ratio between what the corporate bosses made and what their average workers were paid zoomed into the stratosphere. In 1995, CEO's pocketed $212 for every $1 paid to average workers in their corporations. CEO's average yearly pay was $3.7 million.

"Alarming levels" is the term the AFL-CIO uses to describe the incredible differences between what the guys in the big white mansions on the hill make and what the workers in the little houses and apartments on the other side of the river receive.

IN A BYGONE historical era, such alarming differences between the income of the ruling class and that of workers and peasants provoked riots, revolutions and blood in the streets.

Today's CEOs, blinded by their insatiable greed, seemingly don't realize the social explosiveness that is wrought by their ostentatious piling up of millions in salaries, bonuses and stock options.

Or, perhaps, they subscribe to the 1886 philosophy of railroad robber baron Jay Gould who said: "I can hire one-half the working class to kill the other half." In other words, they think if they acquire enough riches they can insulate themselves against any revolt by the underpaid rabble.

THE AFL-CIO's financial measuring stick showed that the total money package bestowed on CEOs screamed into orbit, fueled by high-octane greed, with a 500 percent increase between 1980 and 1995. In that same 15-year time frame, the average factory worker's pay saw only a 70 percent rise while inflation jumped 85 percent.

If the average factory worker's pay had risen by the same percentage as the boss's in 1980-95, the factory employee would have made $90,000 in '95.

If the minimum wage had kept pace with the orbiting increases in CEO pay, 1995's minimum wage workers would have made $39,000 a year.

From 1994 to 1995, top corporate bosses enjoyed a 30 percent boost in their already hefty incomes. That was twice as much of an increase as corporate profits, which were 15 percent. So, the CEOs were paid not for performance but for how much they could persuade their friendly boards of directors to shower on them in salaries, benefits, bonuses, stock options and other golden excesses. In '94-95, inflation went up by three percent while workers' wages inched up a paltry one percent.

ONE REASON why bosses outpaced their factory workers by a whopping $212 to $1 in 1995 compared with $44 to $1 in 1965 is that union membership had declined so much in those 30 years. The AFL-CIO said that when unions represented one-third of the workforce in the 1950s and 1960s, "Workers had an effective counterweight to corporate greed."

Today when unions represent less than one-fourth of the workforce, executive greed boasts a $212 to $1 lead over workers. The labor movement, which has embarked on an ambitious organizing effort, has a big job ahead.

THERE COULD BE a traffic jam of Republican candidates for governor, U.S. senator and U.S. representative as ambitious members of the Grand Old Party (GOP) scramble for a chance to climb the political ladder in next year's elections.

A name mentioned recently as an aspirant for governor is that of professional ballot measure instigator William Lee Sizemore, the front man for the wealthy bankrollers of the so-called Oregon Taxpayers United (OTU), which gave us 1996's Ballot Measure 47 and 1994's court-erased Measure 8, an unconstitutional attack on public employees. Measure 47 was labeled a "cut and cap" property tax initiative, but it, like 1990's Measure 5 property tax limitation initiative, benefits business property owners much more than it does homeowners. It has resulted in cuts in public services as the state, cities, counties, school districts and other public entities slash budgets and services to cope with slashed tax revenues.

Because of #47's slapdash wording, the current Oregon Legislature revamped it into Measure 50, which will be on the May ballot. Had the Legislature not monkeyed with it, a legal challenge may well have put #47 in the trashcan along with #8.

BILL SIZEMORE wants to pass laws at the ballot box for the rest of us to live with even though he himself displays a cavalier attitude toward adhering to existing laws. For example, he didn't pay his property taxes on his Clackamas County home until last month, even though one-third was due last November and another third was due in February. And, although he spent January, February and March lobbying at the Legislature and advising legislators on rewording his Measure 47, he didn't bother to re-register as a lobbyist until March 27. His two-year registration -- from the start of the 1995 legislative session -- expired back in January. As the Northwest Labor Press reported in the April 4 issue, the non-partisan Oregon League of Women Voters has filed an ethics complaint against him with the Oregon Government Standards and Practices Commission, which used to be named the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.

As a 1980s businessman, Sizemore was a Sizeless. For years he was delinquent on his state and federal income taxes, stemming from his forays into businesses whose checkered financial histories are recorded in U.S. Bankruptcy Court files and Multnomah County lien and lawsuit files.

In addition to Sizemore, another possible candidate for the 1998 Republican nomination for governor is Jack Roberts, who's the most management-oriented labor commissioner in Oregon's history. He should be able to raise major campaign bucks from his friends in the restaurant industry who share his aversion to giving minimum-wage workers a raise.

STILL OTHER POSSIBILITIES as Republican hopefuls for governor, senator and representative in two or three congressional districts where they might think incumbent Democrats are vulnerable are Kevin Mannix of Salem, Robert Tiernan of Lake Oswego, and Randy Miller of Lake Oswego. Miller, the party's former state chairman and a current state senator, has run before for statewide office but without success, as has Mannix. Then there are businessman Bill Witt, who lost to Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Furse last November in the First Congressional District, and former national Republican aide Molly Bordonaro, who lost to Witt in the '96 May primary and may run again in the First. And who knows how many Republican members of the Legislature will feel the urge to seek higher office -- especially those state senators who will be in mid-term. Many of the possibilities mentioned share some of the same right-wing contributors, so it could boil down to the moneybags deciding who will run for what office. Meanwhile, Democratic incumbents -- Governor John Kitzhaber, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, U.S. Representatives Elizabeth Furse, Darlene Hooley, Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio -- wait to see who their opponents will be.


Home | About

© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.