Union Leaders Decrying CEO Pay Also in Top 1%: BGOV Barometer

George Petras/Bloomberg

Some leaders of U.S. labor unions, who decry the widening differences between the salaries of corporate chief executive officers and their workers, earn compensation that also places them in the top 1 percent.

The BGOV Barometer shows the heads of the top 10 U.S. labor unions took home average salary and other compensation of $394,925 last year, according to union reports filed with the U.S. Labor Department. Taxpayers in the top 1 percent had adjusted gross income higher than $343,927, according to IRS statistics published in 2011.

Union leaders’ pay is a far cry from the average compensation of CEOs of S&P 500 companies, which the AFL-CIO calculated at $12.9 million, a figure President Richard Trumka described as “astronomical” last week. While Trumka’s own 2011 compensation of $293,750 puts him with the 99 percent, leaders of several unions under his organization’s umbrella earned much more, led by Terence O’Sullivan of the Laborers’ International Union of America, at $589,124.

“It’s tremendously embarrassing for the union officers,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. “It distances them from the rank and file. How can you represent workers and their problems when you’re in the 1 percent?”

The AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labor federation, last week outlined a searchable database of salaries of the chief executive officers of the largest U.S. companies in an effort to highlight the disparity, which union leaders say is bad for economic growth.

Top 1 Percent

“Inequality threatens America’s greatness,” James Hoffa, the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said in an April 10 statement. “Last year, the top 1 percent of America took in 23 percent of all income. It’s time everyone starts to play by the same rules.”

Hoffa, whose union represents 1.38 million workers, received $372,489 in 2011 in salary and other disbursements for items such as meals, entertainment and other expenses.

Besides O’Sullivan and Hoffa, union leaders whose pay puts them in the top 1 percent include Gerald McEntee of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Edwin Hill of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Dennis Van Roekel of the National Education Association and Joseph Hansen of the United Food and Commercial Workers Association.

“We are totally transparent about what our officers are paid, and there’s no comparison to CEOs who last year got paid $13 million on average, often while skimping on pay for their workers or slashing jobs and sitting on trillions of dollars in cash,” Alison Omens, an AFL-CIO spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

The union leaders’ compensation is also a fraction of the pay of industry trade association heads. For example, Tom Donohue, the chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, took home $4.75 million in 2010. Jack Gerard, who heads the American Petroleum Institute, was paid $6.4 million.

The gap in compensation between union leaders and their membership is nothing like the 380-1 ratio by which corporate CEOS out-earn their employees, according to the AFL-CIO.

“I’d argue they are out of touch, said Chaison. “It’s wrong to compare them to corporate leaders; they should be compared to the workers themselves.”

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