Union questions auto execs' pay packages

Japanese companies are not required to break out salaries and bonuses for top executives. Instead, they lump them together. Last year, Toyota's top 37 executives earned a combined $21.6 million in salary and bonuses, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. U.K. firm Manifest Information Services, which analyzes proxy information, estimates Toyota's top executive, Hiroshi Okuda, earned $903,000 in 2006.

At Honda, the top 21 earned $11.1 million, combined, in salary and bonuses, SEC filings show.

"There is this huge gap between the average worker and the CEO, and the gap is greatest in the U.S.," Kim says. "That kind of thing might work where individual work counts the most, but in the manufacturing sector, it's all about teamwork."

It's difficult to get a precise comparison because Japanese companies are not required to include perks. "It's a very tough comparison to make," says David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research. The perks given to Japanese executives can include homes, chauffeurs, country club memberships. In the USA, "our disclosure on things like this is pretty complete. The first inclination is to say there's this huge difference, but I don't think that's true."

"It's true that they have some of those extra perks," Felax says. "But let's not kid ourselves; so do the American guys."

Focus on hourly pay

Despite UAW grumbling about executive pay, the focus throughout the current labor negotiations has been on hourly worker pay. GM's proposed contract attempts to close the gap between its workers and those of its foreign rivals.

It's estimated that GM workers earn an average $73 an hour when benefits including health care and pensions are added in. That appears to be about $25 an hour more than Toyota's U.S. workers.

Toyota and GM workers earn about the same hourly wages. Benefits are what push the UAW members ahead. The GM contract slashes the hourly rate by making changes in retiree health care. The contract also will allow GM to bring in certain workers at lower wages.

For Gregory Stack, a Chrysler union worker in Detroit, the conversation about hourly pay seems unfair.

"We're all pretty much watching helplessly as the situation with the domestic auto industry worsens daily," says Stack, who is a third-generation autoworker. "Unions are getting a lot of negative press as being the sole cause of all the problems with the corporations."

While he's willing to take some concessions in the upcoming contract, he says he hopes something is done to fix the wage structure up top, as well.

"The disparity is massive," he says. "It does not all necessarily lie with the unions."

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