The auto strike, by the numbers

The pay gap between Big Three automakers' executives and UAW members has workers pushing for higher wages

A UAW strike sign outside a Stellantis factory
UAW workers are striking for fairer wages as their bosses continue to make more
(Image credit: Emily Elconin / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The year of strikes has continued with the United Auto Workers (UAW) walking off the job on Sept. 15. While the UAW has gone on strike in the past, the 2023 walkout marks the first time that unionized workers have trilaterally picketed the 'Big Three' U.S. car manufacturers: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the latter of which owns Chrysler and Jeep.

Like other labor disputes, such as the ongoing dual strikes in Hollywood, UAW workers are taking to the streets for fairer pay and more equitable working conditions. UAW President Shawn Fain unveiled demands including a 46% pay raise, reinstated pensions, additional paid leave, reestablished retirement benefits and more, though Fain himself described the demands as "audacious."

The auto strike comes at a time when "the gap between CEO pay and rank-and-file workers at all three companies is gigantic," Fortune noted. How do the numbers — and the salaries — stack up?

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What do the heads of the Big Three auto manufacturers make?

Out of the trio of Big Three CEOs, Ford head James Farley makes the least — but he still earned nearly $22 million last year, the Detroit Free Press reported. This included a starting salary of $1.7 million, in addition to $15.1 million in stock awards, $2.8 million in bonuses and $1.4 million in miscellaneous compensation, per The Detroit News. This is more than 200 times what the average Ford worker made in 2022, the outlet noted. Farley defended his salary in an op-ed in the Free Press, where he noted that 80% of Ford employees made the company's top wage rate of $32 per hour. 

Then there is the head of perhaps the quintessential American brand, General Motors, Mary Barra. The first female CEO of a Big Three company, Barra earns around $29 million per year, the highest of the group. She recently defended her salary in an interview with CNN in which the outlet pointed out to Barra that she'd "seen a 34% pay increase in your salary" over the last four years. Barra told CNN that "92% of [her compensation] is based on performance of the company," adding that GM was offering a 20% pay increase for workers. 

The CEO of Stellantis, Carlos Tavares, makes 23.46 million euros, or just over $25 million, according to the company. However, because Stellantis is a European brand, it calculates executive compensation differently than U.S. companies. An equivalent comparison between the Big Three CEOs from Equilar put his salary closer to 21.95 euros, or $23.4 million. However, his compensation package remains high, Fortune noted, and is far above what the company's prior CEO earned. 

What does the average auto worker make?

Most auto workers, especially UAW employees in the factories, receive hourly pay as opposed to a salary. This past August, the average U.S. auto worker earned $28 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This represents a $1 dollar increase from August 2022. 

The auto industry notably employs a tiered wage system, so the longer someone has worked for one of the Big Three, the more they earn. "Top-tier workers — meaning anyone who joined the company in 2007 or earlier — make roughly $33 an hour on average," CBS News reported, citing Big Three contract summaries. People hired after 2007 are classified in the lower tier and "earn up to $17 an hour based on a buildup of 6% annual raises under the last contract."

When it comes to the individual companies, the median pay for workers at GM was $80,034, according to Fortune, meaning it would take the average employee 362 years to match Barra's compensation, the outlet noted. At Ford, median pay was $74,691, and it would take this employee 281 years to match Farley's compensation. Stellantis had a median pay of 64,328 euros, or $68,728, and it would take the average employee 365 years to match Tavares' compensation. 

This means the pay ratio between a Stellantis worker and Tavares is 298-1, much higher than the average employee pay ratio of S&P 500 companies, which The Associated Press reported was 186-1.

As a whole, while CEO salaries have increased, "auto manufacturing workers have seen their average real hourly earnings fall 19.3% since 2008," Adam Hersh wrote for the Economic Policy Institute

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