As workers across the U.S. attempt to unionize and walk off the job over brutal conditions and starvation wages, an analysis released Sunday found that the median pay package of top U.S. CEOs jumped to $14.7 million in 2021—the sixth consecutive record-breaking year for executive compensation.
According to the Wall Street Journal's review of data from more than 400 U.S. corporations, total CEO compensation "rose by at least 12% for most of the executives, and most companies recorded annual shareholder returns of nearly 30%." Nine CEOs made $50 million or more in total compensation in 2021, up from just one in 2016 and seven in 2020.
"Much of the pay consisted of equity awards that could ultimately prove to be worth more or less than initially reported," the Journal noted. "In 2020, the median pay package was $13.4 million for the same companies, with median cash compensation of $3.1 million."
The Journal's analysis showed that Expedia CEO Peter Kern brought in the highest total compensation—$294.57 million—among top CEOs last year. Other CEOs on the list include Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav ($216.06 million), ServiceNow CEO Bill McDermott ($162.23 million), Apple CEO Tim Cook ($82.35 million), and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon ($77.62 million).
Rising CEO pay stands in stark contrast to the grim economic realities that ordinary workers are facing nationwide as inflation—driven in large part by corporate profits—erodes modest wage gains and expiring pandemic aid leaves vulnerable families without a safety net.
"While most of America struggles to put gas in the tank and pay the grocery bills, price-gouging, excessive-profit-taking CEOs used their captive boards to award themselves record pay," Jennifer Taub, a professor at Western New England University School of Law and an expert on corporate governance, tweeted in response to the Journal's findings.
As CEOs rake in huge compensation packages, workers at prominent U.S. companies with ultra-wealthy chief executives—including Amazon, Starbucks, and Apple—are trying to unionize in the face of relentless opposition from management.
In recent months, employees at more than 60 Starbucks locations in the U.S. have voted to form a union, winning a remarkable 90% of elections held thus far.
Additionally, as labor journalist Michael Sainato reported for The Guardian on Monday, "workers in America's fast-food and retail sectors who worked on the frontlines through the dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic are continuing a trend of strikes and protests over low wages, safety concerns, and sexual harassment issues on the job."
"My weekly paycheck is no more than $200, $260 at the max," Ashley Sierra, a Dollar General employee who makes $11 an hour, told The Guardian. "I have three children, I cannot survive on $260 a week, it's just not working. It needs to get upped to at least $15 an hour, the bottom is $15, because we work so hard for so little."
Todd Vasos, Dollar General's CEO, made $16.45 million in total compensation last year.