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At a glance
Here’s a sampling of the average annual salaries among the top and bottom wage earners in metropolitan Fort Wayne, which comprises Allen, Whitley and Wells counties:
Physicians, surgeons…$243,240
Chief executives…$159,760
Child-care workers…$18,710
Fast-food cooks…$17,180
Source: Community Research Institute
Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Rural King store manager Doug Williams says the new Fort Wayne store pays its employees well.

Wage gap called unfair

AFL-CIO says CEOs make 99 times more than the average worker

Rural King opened a store where a Kroger used to be on West Jefferson Boulevard near Interstate 69.

In Indiana, Joe Public makes $39,841.

His boss, well, you’d have to add a few more zeros.

An Indiana AFL-CIO report says top executives in the state made 99 times more than the rank and file in 2013. The average CEO earned $3.9 million last year, compared with $39,841 for the average Hoosier.

And a full-time worker earning minimum wage made just $15,080, according to the report released in April.

Of course, advocates for the executives will argue that with great power, comes great pay. After all, these individuals typically are college-educated, experienced professionals ultimately held responsible for a corporation’s success or failure.

Indiana AFL-CIO President Brett Voorhies says they didn’t get there by themselves.

“Many CEOs don’t have a conscience because they’re able to live the life they have because of the blood, sweat and tears of the workers making the products,” he said. “You can have a $25,000 bathtub and live a lavish lifestyle, but you’re making money on the backs of working families.”

Kirt Bonnell won’t argue. The 42-year-old unemployed Fort Wayne father said the economy remains sluggish and jobs are still hard to come by, even with declining unemployment.

Joblessness in metro Fort Wayne dropped in March as the unemployment rate retreated to 5.7 percent from 6.2 percent a month earlier. That’s the best showing in nearly six years for metropolitan Fort Wayne, which comprises Allen, Wells and Whitley counties.

“The jobs that are out there just don’t pay enough,” Bonnell said. “I don’t feel that’s right and it bothers me. The rich get richer and the poor stay the same.”

That depends who your employer is, said Doug Williams, store manager at Rural King in Fort Wayne. The agricultural retail chain believes in reinvesting profits in its people and company, he said.

“They take money to try to grow the business,” said Williams, who has worked for Rural King for five years and makes between $45,000 and $50,000 a year. The chain opened a location in southwest Fort Wayne in a former Kroger store more than a month ago.

“It’s up to (top executives) to decide what to do, but they’ve been generous with me,” Williams said.

Keith Busse, the retired founder and former president and CEO of Steel Dynamics Inc., said he understands much of the public outrage over escalating executive salaries.

At times, Busse said, compensation committees at various companies don’t scrutinize pay grades as well as they should.

“They get caught up in chasing after the Joneses,” he said. “If you’re the best at what you do, you should be paid accordingly. But when you have someone making $10 (million), $15 (million) or $30 million a year, I’m not sure anybody is worth that kind of money.”

Still, Busse questions whether Hoosier CEOs are actually making 99 times more than non-executives as the AFL-CIO report states.

“I guess it depends what apples and which oranges you’re comparing,” he said. “I mean, are we talking about a base salary, stock options, bonuses tied to performance or other money they may not receive until they retire?”

Voorhies said the report encompasses all compensation, including the allowances Busse mentioned.

But that’s beside the point because the average worker doesn’t receive those kinds of financial rewards anyway, Voorhies said.

“I don’t know how they can sleep at night when their workers are barely making it,” Voorhies said.

The liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute this winter said that from 1979 to 2007 the gap between the rich and poor exploded.

During that period, the average income of the bottom 99 percent of U.S. taxpayers grew by 18.9 percent, but the top 1 percent saw their income balloon more than 10 times as much.

To draw attention to the wage gap, the AFL-CIO has set up for people to see how their salaries compare with the nation’s top execs.

“CEO Executive PayWatch calls attention to the insane level of compensation for CEOs, while the workers who create those corporate profits struggle for enough money to take care of the basics,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “This database is relevant to every community in the country. And we’ll use this data to organize and mobilize to lift millions of workers out of poverty and to strengthen the middle class.”

That sounds good to Darryl Kirtz. The 58-year-old machinist says politicians should address pay inequality.

“What they need to do is come into the neighborhoods and really see how people are living,” Kirtz said. “They need to see the side of the little person. It can’t be business as usual.”