No, CEOs Don’t Make 347 Times More than American Workers

This op-ed column was originally published at

Luka Ladan, CUF Communications Director

America’s CEOs make 347 times more money than blue-collar employees. Or at least, that’s what the AFL-CIO—America’s largest federation of labor unions—wants you to think.

The union conglomerate recently published its annual Executive Paywatch report in an attempt to expose “greedy CEOs” for hoarding wealth at the top of the income scale. The report concludes that the average S&P 500 CEO earned $13.1 million in total compensation in 2016, while the typical U.S. rank-and-file worker made only $37,632. This comes out, the AFL-CIO claims, to “a CEO-to-worker pay ratio of 347 to one.”

But it’s fake news, because your average CEO isn’t Jeff Bezos or Tim Cook. Amazon and Apple are statistical anomalies in the grand scheme of U.S. business activity, with its 28 million small businesses nationwide.

A more accurate indicator of executive pay is the Department of Labor’s average salary figure for a “chief executive,” which encompasses small business owners and S&P 100 CEOs. According to Department of Labor research, the average “chief executive” earned $194,350 in gross salary last year—nowhere near $13.1 million in total compensation or a 347-to-one CEO-to-worker pay gap.

Numerous fact-checkers have debunked the AFL-CIO’s claims. Experts at the Annenberg Public Policy Center conclude that when all CEOs are included, the pay disparity is far smaller” than union leadership leads on. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry puts it, the AFL-CIO uses an “apples-to-oranges analysis cherry-picking “a small, select group of CEOs heading America’s largest multinational corporations.” Even The Washington Post’s Fact Checker has chimed in. When then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton repeated the AFL-CIO’s talking points at a campaign stop—claiming that “the average CEO makes about 300 times what the average worker makes”—Fact Checker described her claim as “completely wrong.”

Perhaps union elites are trying to change the subject from their own six-figure lifestyles. In 2016, hundreds of union officials earned six-figure incomes funded by member dues. According to a Center for Union Facts analysis of DOL filings, at least 192 union presidents made more in gross income than the average CEO salary in 2016. Roughly 50 union presidents earned over $300,000 in total compensation. At least 22 of them made $400,000 or more.

Timothy Canoll, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, earned more than $775,000 last year. International Brotherhood of Boilermakers President Newton Jones was close at $756,973, while Laborers’ International Union President Terence O’Sullivan made nearly $718,000 in total compensation. (Even AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who criticized the “greed of corporate CEOs” after the AFL-CIO’s report came out, took home $294,537 in 2016.)

To put it into perspective, an annual household income of $430,000 lands you firmly in the top one percent of earners, so often vilified by Democrats and union elites.

Union leadership comes with other perks. In 2015 and 2016, Newton Jones’ Boilermakers union spent more than $642,000 at Florida’s luxurious Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa. The same union has dished out $285,000 for sports tickets in the last five years. Boilermakers officials even paid Wide Awake Films, a Missouri-based production company, $450,000 last year to prepare a series of union documentaries for a meeting at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

Such extravagance is commonplace in union America. In 2016, the American Federation of Teachers spent nearly $100,000 on limousine services alone. One Pennsylvania union recently bought $265,000 worth of Philadelphia Eagles tickets in a single year.

Is it any wonder that union members are less likely to be satisfied with their job than nonunion employees? According to a recent Rasmussen poll, only 25 percent of current and former union employees approve of union leadership.

Proposals like the Employee Rights Act, a federal reform package, would hold union elites accountable by making it easier to leave a union. Under current labor law, union decertification is an arduous path and one paved with intimidation.

But until the status quo is changed, union elites will continue abusing their power. And they’ll keep lobbing stones at CEOs from glass houses.