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Sanders Pitches Bill to Close Wide Pay Gap Between CEOs and the Average Worker

The legislation would hike taxes on large corporations that pay their CEOs over 50 times more than its median worker.

Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders arrives for the Senate Budget Committee confirmation for Shalanda D. Young, nominee to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on March 2, 2021.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Wednesday unveiled legislation that would hike taxes on large corporations that pay their CEOs over 50 times more than the median worker, an effort to combat the decades-long trend of skyrocketing inequality in the United States.

Under the Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act (pdf), the “corporate tax rate would increase by 0.5% for those companies reporting a [CEO-to-median-worker pay] ratio of 50 to 1, and grow to a rate of 5% for those companies reporting a ratio of 500 to 1 or higher,” according to a summary of the proposal released by Sanders’ office.

“The bill also requires the Treasury Department to issue regulations to prevent tax avoidance, including against companies that increase the use of contractors rather than employees,” the summary notes. “Pay-ratio data for privately held corporations would also be made public, just as publicly held corporations are required to make public under current law.”

In a statement, Sanders warned that the United States is “moving toward an oligarchic form of society where the very rich are doing phenomenally well, and working families are struggling in a way that we have not seen since the Great Depression” due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis.

“At a time of massive income and wealth inequality,” Sanders said, “the American people are demanding that large, profitable corporations pay their fair share of taxes and treat their employees with the dignity and respect they deserve. That is what this legislation will begin to do.”

The Vermont senator’s new legislation — co-sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) — comes as he is set to preside over budget committee hearing Wednesday that will focus primarily on wealth and income inequality.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest person on the planet, declined Sanders’ invitation to attend the hearing, which will also feature testimony from an Amazon employee who works at the Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center that’s currently in the middle of a closely watched and potentially groundbreaking union drive.

“I intend to talk about the most important issues facing working families,” Sanders told the Wall Street Journal ahead of the hearing. “Right now, I happen to believe that this country is on its way to an oligarchy.”

According to Sanders’ office, the new legislation would bring the federal government around $150 billion in revenue over a decade if current corporate pay patterns continue.

If the bill had been in effect last year, according to the senator’s office:

  • Walmart would have paid up to $854.9 million more in taxes;
  • Home Depot would have paid up to $550.8 million more in taxes;
  • JPMorgan Chase would have paid up to $172.8 million more in taxes;
  • Nike would have paid up to $147.7 million more in taxes.
  • McDonald’s would have paid up to $69.5 million more in taxes; and
  • American Airlines would have paid up to $22.6 million more in taxes.

“Corporate executives have padded their pockets with hefty paychecks and over-the-top compensation packages, while American workers, who helped generate record corporate profits, have hardly seen their wages budge,” Warren said in a statement Wednesday. “We need to take dramatic steps to address wealth inequality in this country and discouraging massive executive payouts is a good place to start.”

In a research report published last August, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) showed that top CEOs in the U.S. earned 320 times as much as the typical worker in 2019. Between 1978 and 2019, EPI found, CEO pay soared by 1,167% while typical worker pay grew by just 13.7%.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a co-sponsor of companion legislation in the House, said Wednesday that it is “unjust and unacceptable that for decades, billions of dollars have gone to those at the top while workers’ wages, especially for workers of color, have remained stagnant.”

“As millions of families struggle to keep food on the table during a global pandemic and economic crisis, it is more important than ever that we close the CEO-worker pay gap and ensure that companies pay their workers the wages they deserve,” Lee added. “I’m proud to partner with Sen. Sanders to reintroduce the Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act to make ultra-wealthy CEOs pay their fair share.”

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