UAW justifies wage demands with CEO pay raises. So how high were they?

It’s been a central argument for the United Auto Workers union: If Detroit’s three automakers raised CEO pay by 40 per cent over the past four years, workers should get similar raises.

UAW President Shawn Fain has repeatedly cited the figure, contrasting it with the six per cent pay raises autoworkers have received since their last contract in 2019. He opened negotiations with a demand for a similar 40 per cent wage increase over four years, along with the return of pensions and cost of living increases. The UAW has since lowered its demand to a 36 per cent wage increase but the two sides remain far apart in contract talks, triggering a strike.

The big three CEO pay packages

The volatility of CEO pay

How does this all compare to regular worker pay?

United Auto Workers prepares to strike against Detroit Three automakers, rejects offers

Then there’s Tesla.

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CEO Elon Musk’s 2022 compensation was reported as zero in the company’s proxy statement, rendering its official pay ratio meaningless. Of course, that’s because Tesla hasn’t awarded Musk new packages since a 2018 long-term compensation plan that could potentially be worth more than $50 billion and is facing a legal challenge from shareholders.

But the proxy offers glimpse at the mind-boggling wealth disparity between its nonunion workers and one of the world’s richest men.

The filing reported Musk’s total “realized compensation” in 2021 at more than $737 million. A typical Tesla worker earned $40,723 that year.

According to the proxy, for that worker to make Musk’s “realized compensation” that year, it would take more than 18,000 years.


This story has been corrected to reflect Ford’s CEO and his compensation in 2019. The CEO was Jim Hackett, not William Clay Ford, and his compensation was $17.4 million, not $16.76 million.

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