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West Virginia Democrat Richard Ojeda -- who lost a U.S. House race in 2018 but is considering a run for president in 2020 -- shot a video clip at General Motors’ Detroit headquarters to call out the company’s announcement that it was closing five plants and laying off more than 14,000 employees in late November.
He shared the video in a Nov. 27 tweet, adding this commentary in the body of the tweet: "I'm in Detroit at General Motors HQ. We bailed you out. We gave you tax breaks. Your workers are the reason your CEO took home almost 22 MILLION DOLLARS last year alone (295x your company's average employee). And this is how you repay them? #CorporateGreed."
We wondered whether Ojeda was correct that the company’s CEO, Mary Barra, took home almost $22 million last year, a sum that was 295 times the company's average employee, at about $74,000.
Stephanie Rice, GM’s assistant manager of finance communications, confirmed to PolitiFact that Barra was paid a total compensation package of $21.96 million last year and that it was about 295 times as much as GM’s median employee.
These figures must be reported publicly to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and they have drawn some media attention. The amount Barra was paid represented a drop from her 2016 compensation of $22.58 million.
While 295 times larger seems like a lot, it’s far from the only such ratio among major U.S. companies -- or even among the highest.
The 2017 CEO-to-worker compensation ratio was 312-to-1, according to research by the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-aligned think tank. (The metric the group used is not apples-to-apples with the number GM reported to the government, so a direct comparison is not possible.)
This ratio, covering 350 large companies, "was far greater than the 20-to-1 ratio in 1965 and more than five times greater than the 58-to-1 ratio in 1989, although it was lower than the peak ratio of 344-to-1, reached in 2000," the institute wrote.
The following chart shows the ratio since the mid-1960s, measured two different ways.
One minor quibble with Ojeda’s language: He used the term "average" employee. Many readers might follow common usage and assume that "average" as the mean salary. In fact, the SEC data uses the median salary, which is technically a type of average but is not often referred to that way.
Ojeda did not respond to an inquiry for this article.
Ojeda said that Barra "took home almost 22 MILLION DOLLARS last year alone (295x your company's average employee)."
The company confirmed both figures, which they are required by law to report to the government. We rate the statement True.
Richard Ojeda, tweet, Nov. 27, 2018
Detroit Free Press, "GM CEO Mary Barra: Who she is, her goals and her pay," Nov. 27, 2018
Economic Policy Institute, "CEO compensation surged in 2017," Aug. 16, 2018
Dictionary.com, "What’s The Difference: Average, Mean, Median, And Mode," accessed Dec. 5, 2018
The Atlantic, "Why Democrats’ Response to GM Matters," Nov. 30, 2018
Chamberlain, Andrew. "CEO to Worker Pay Ratios: Average CEO Earns 204 Times Median Worker Pay." Glassdoor, Oct. 23, 2015.
Rushe, Dominic. "US Bosses Now Earn 312 Times the Average Worker's Wage, Figures Show." The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, Aug 16, 2018.
Email interview with Stephanie Rice, Assistant Manager of Finance Communications at General Motors, Dec. 4, 2018.
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