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Preview: High-Flying Executives


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This Week on Bill Moyers Journal:

Beginning to trade on the NYSE last week, Northwest airlines dodged the bankruptcy bullet.

But while a $1.4 billion a year cut in labor expenses has ensured lower costs for Northwest, why are airline executives still flying high on salaries, stock options and benefits while workers and retirees see cuts in pay and compensation?

Check Your Local Listings here and we'll see you on the blog after the show.


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Dear Mr. Moyer:
I watched your video entitled “Payday! CEO Salaries” posted on the following website: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06082007/watch.html.
I agree with your view on the compensation that CEOs are receiving is extreme. I enjoyed the opening of the program with the clip from “Wall Street” and Gordon Gekko talking about greed. When it all boils down, CEO compensation is related to greed. As a business major student, I was aware of the astronomical salaries that many CEOs receive. I was, however, surprised to learn about the compensation of airline CEOs in relation to the pay and benefits sacrifices its other employees are making.
To agree to a compensation package of $26.6 million over four years while other employees who do the brunt of the work are still operating on 20-40% pay and benefits cuts is an injustice. CEO of Northwest Airlines, Doug Steenland will never have to worry about money, while the airline’s pilots, mechanics, and flight attendants are struggling to survive due to their pay cuts.
I understand that to get out of bankruptcy, airlines such as Northwest Airlines (NWA) needed to cut costs. The unions who represented their workers also understood this and allowed for the paycuts. To give him credit where due, Steenland did take reduced pay during bankruptcy. But now that NWA is out of bankruptcy, instead of paying Steenland such a large amount, the company should begin to increase the pay and benefits amounts for the employees who took cuts during bankruptcy. NWA could not have come out of bankruptcy if it was not for their employees—“…of the $2.4 billion in expenses NW had to slash—cuts in worker’s pay and benefits accounted for 60%.” NWA needs to acknowledge their dedicated employees who helped them emerge from bankruptcy and begin to repay them for their lost wages and benefits.
When the labor unions sued NWA, the courts upheld that the compensation paid to NWA top executives was not illegal or unfair. They held that the compensation plans needed to be generous in order to keep management from leaving the company. But, not all CEOs are greedy or need the excessive compensation to stay with a company. Delta Airline’s CEO Gerald Grinstein was the only CEO of an airline who turned down a major compensation package when their company emerged from bankruptcy. When offered
$10 million in compensation, he turned this amount down and instead accepted pay of $338,000 yearly.
We need more CEOs like Grinstein. If airline CEOs were to turn down their excessive compensation packages, the companies could recycle that money back to their employees who made such sacrifices. They could put the money towards again increasing their pay, benefits, and also to bring back pensions, many of which were frozen or eliminated. It is not fair to continue to pay employees at a reduced rate and also keep their lower benefits amounts while executives are sitting pretty with multi-million dollar compensation. It is completely understandable why many airline employees are picketing and raising a fuss. I enjoyed learning about this situation—it was very insightful and eye opening. Thank you, Mr. Moyer for bring this topic to the public’s attention.

I'm an American Airlines pilot's wife. My husband left the USAF after 16 years to sign on with American. It is the AA paycheck, not the union's, that's deposited into our bank account. I worry that APA is going to ruin negotiations because of their fan-flaming rhetoric about AA management. Yes, the executive pay is high, but the company is strong. To be guided by marketpalce ideals is what we need to remain competitive- lets leave our moral musings aside.

Quoted by Evelyn: "Hey GaP...so maybe being a flight attendant is not a good job. You should quit and do something else..."

Hey Evelyn - should my husband quit too? At age 28 he has a perfectly planned and executed career - a Bachelor's degree, graduated with honors, + about 30K worth of flight training (paid for out of his own pocket) not to mention 3 years as a flight instructor, during which time he made about 10 bucks/flight hour. All of this has prepared him for his career, which SHOULD have (theoretically) put him at a major airline making 6 figures with tons of benefits a while ago. Instead, thanks to the current management policies and politics, he is a 6 year professional airline pilot at a regional airline (Captain for several years) and holds credentials as a Part 121 Line Check Airman, earning him a lofty 30K/year. With 2 kids, we almost qualify for food stamps.

He is a PROFESSIONAL - not unlike a doctor or a lawyer in preparation, skill, or carer investment.

Quote: "Get educated and imporve your income. That is the American way."

Thank you for illustrating the advanced literacy of the average business degree holder in America.

If everyone bails on their career, as your post recommends, then what quality of "professional" do you suppose is going to be sitting up front on your next business trip? But hey, you got there for $199.99 Round Trip, right? I hope you get exactly what you are asking for. Don't whine and complain when you do!


Executive pay in my father's day was 40 times workers pay. Now, it's 400 times! For a company to give its directors many millions while at the same time demanding 60 percent of its restructuring costs to come from worker pay cuts is frankly immoral. One airline company exec turned down the money while the others said the board made them do it. Something else made them do it - a renewed sense of feudalism. Horrifying to anyone with a sense of public service.

Mr. Moyers,
Watching "The Journal" Friday, the topic was the airline industry's exuberant pay and perks while the employees wages and benefits are cut. This is an excellent example of greed, the fictional example the movie "Wall Street”. Good choice. I am philosopher and I have spent years teaching ethics courses. The film I use is "Quiz Show" it parallels the questions we ask about morality and justice. Moreover, each movie illustrates the complexity of our moral world. In the journal report, the airline executives were getting millions while their company is failing. For a moment, let us imagine the employees were not baring the burden (which they clearly are). Instead, imagine you are the executive. You are well educated, experienced, and hard working. You are making "bank." Why wouldn't you take the great pay?

In the movie, "Quiz Show" a young pedigreed scholar (played by Ralph Finnes) is on a fixed quiz show in the 1950’s getting the winnings and celebrity. The television quiz show captures the attention of a young federal prosecutor (played by Rob Morrow). The young prosecutor uncovers the show is fixed. Nevertheless, they become friendly and in a discussion the young scholar heatedly asks the prosecutor, "If someone offered you all this money to on some rigged quiz show, instant fame the works would you do it?" The moral question might be, if wealth, fame, and fortune are the primary goal, i.e. greed, why should he not take full advantage? There are no laws being broken and the people with the money are offering it to you. Even if the company you work for is paying others poorly, is it wrong if they offer it to you? In the case of the airlines, paying their executives highly while cutting the pay and benefits of the lower level personnel, is that wrong?

The story provokes deep feelings of injustice as well it should, yet our moral sensibilities rarely translate to action in this world known as “business”. It is not unlawful to do what the airlines have done and many other companies for that matter. Corporations seem to live with “moral myopia” (quoted from philosopher Courtney Campbell) because corporations are institutional by nature. This institutional nature is guided by economic ideals not moral ones. We see more often than not corporations protecting themselves by exploiting the expendable (as Marx would agree). This is a common as apple pie and baseball. I have not seen any attempt to tell corporations they cannot pay someone as they see fit. There is no legislation underway to put a cap on salaries. No one wants to tell Bill Gates to stop making so much money. Few questioned if it was just to have a man who’s net worth is cited at $40 billion plus. I live not far from Nike in Portland Oregon. Nike is criticized for sending it manufacturing to other countries to ensure low overhead and production. But no action has come of the criticism. Why? It is good business and profits are high.

I work in the non-profit world to makes ends meet. The non-profit work I do is with “behaviorally disturbed youth”. The company employees are educated, experienced, and talented people and are paid poorly but the company can spend $100,000 to change its name. The employee turnover rate, at least at 65% or more. The people that care for the children are expendable while the upper management get “paid!” This dynamic does not change and I have little doubt that if any of the people I work with were offered significant money while the rest of us are paid low they would take it. It may be good business but questionable morality. When I show “Quiz Show” to my students, I point out the question the young scholar asks. Some argue that he is wrong while others argue he is just getting his. In the end, many agree with the producers in the movie say, “Its just show business”. There are no simple easy answers to this complex web of society and morality but we have to ask the hard questions about our moral world.

Mr. Moyers, thanks for your accurate reporting of the Corporate greed at NWA. With almost 30 years as a flight attendant I had hoped to look forward to retiring soon. Even though I have saved and planned for the future I just can't afford to do it.
The pay cuts warrant me taking a second job but the increased workloads make it impossible to do so. The executives are watching Rome burn.

I commend Bill Moyers for keeping the heat on things in this country that are unfair or unethical. I have been a Flight attendant for NWA for 34 years. Perhaps Mr Steenland can say that he is worth Thousands of times my income, but I can guarantee that HE will NOT be the one trying to prevent a Terrorist from taking over the plane! Yet, He thinks that his acceptance of this Obscene bonus is ethical. How Dare He! Thank You so much for not letting this slip by.

Thank you so very much for presenting the story of Northwest Airlines Employees.It may be legal to accept Millions in dollars and stock options but it certainly is not moral. When sacrifices were asked for they were given, These are paycuts that started in 1993. Interest was promised on these "loans".Well the interst is out and the payback is cut and for this good work he gets a bonus . And yes he didn't vote to give himself this large amount of money but he can decide to give it to the employees who actually made the sacrifices.When he dies I hope they pack it all in fireproof bags and stuff it in with him.

Hey, GaP, so maybe being a flight attendant is not a good job. You should quit and do something else. I have had bad jobs with bad companies, and I no longer work there. I do understand the frustration you must feel to know that someone at NWA is making $26 million when you are struggleing to pay bills.

Eliza, companies pay what is called profit sharing. That is a sharing of the $1 million you are talking about. They also often have stock options where employees can share in the good fortunes of the company.

And Judson, raise taxes to 90 - 95%? To pay for social programs? I can agree we need to do something about national health care, but who would want to work if they had to pay most of their money in taxes. And unemployment benefits? Take a look at the problems with unemployment they have in France to see what that policy does. The best way to show why our system is superior is to look at the performance of Boeing versus that of Airbus.

Learn about business and how the system works. We all have the opportunity to make money here, not only in our jobs, but also by being investors and becoming owners of the companies discussed. Get educated and imporve your income. That is the American way.

I am a flight-attendant for Northwest...and it doesn't feel like I'm living a cushy lifestyle, sleeping in airport chairs and walking around in a jet-fatiqued daze all the time, working more hours to make ends meet...and bear in mind, I'm supposed to keep passengers safe...that's my primary function rather than dishing out pretzels and soda...
The United States fosters a corporate culture of greed and entitlement...Isn't that what led to our the first Great Depression? AND I think we're headed for another...GaP

I sat beside a CEO on an airplane flight a few years ago. His justification for large amounts of money lining a CEO's pocket eliminates the fact that the company does not function on the skills of a CEO. He said (paraphrasing) "If a company makes 10 million, why shouldn't the CEO have 1 million in bonus?" I say, "Why shouldn't the 1 million be shared among the CEO and all the employees?"

Bill Moyers, please keep up the great content!

There is a simple solution to the problem of some people (corporate CEO's, hedge fund managers, professional athletes, etc.) raking in obscenely large incomes, far more than any person could possibly deserve. Just raise the graduated income tax rates (and close loopholes) so that people who make a million bucks a year have to pay something like 90% or 95% of their income over a million to the IRS. Then use the extra money to provide services such as national health care and increased unemployment benefits for ordinary folk. Government financed healthcare would relieve American corporations of that burden, and make them more competitive in world markets. And it might even be good for corporations if the greedy pigs at the top were taken down a few notches and humbled, so that they knew they were not royalty. The ordinary people have the votes and the ultimate power to decide how wealth will be distributed. All we have to do exercise our power, and stop this obscenity.

Cd smith has it right but I blame it on the boomers.
to me the most selfish generation ever seen. In the us they were so glad to get the consumer trash world going ,so they could lead soulless american existance of going to church but never listening.
Ignoring all pleas of help from the world and the people on it always striving for their retirement money.
now you have a country based on lies run by liers and infested with lies as a result.
no compultion to say"you are fired" here in oregon they can force you to go back to work for lying cheating bosses that break the law .but you must still work for them .they do not have to obay the law but the worker does.
Oh and the clasic american drug test. only gets one type out did people protest no.
firing laws do they protest NO at no time do the so called free americans protest for what is just or right. only protest when thier own bigotry is being offended.
then they want to export thier business ideas so the whole world can learn to be as decietful as your average american.If you think I am being racist.AVERAGE. you give me the camera and funding I will show the business model from the states that will end the world. thanks America so glad you could find us.(rest of the world).As these american busness models take over more and more people are realising it comes from the US and so so many more are learning to hate the USA.and why not they have some morals and if you do you gotta hate the USA>

Athletes command high saleries because they have a skill that can only be matched by a few other people in the world. Roger Clemens "agreed to a one-year contract for $28,000,022 -- the last two digits matching his uniform number -- that will start when he is added to the major league roster for his first start, most likely in three to four weeks," according the ESPN.com. This one year compensation is more than the CEOs we are discussing receive in multiple years.

While I feel bad for the flight attendants, mechanics, pilots, their skills are a dime a dozen. I am no different. If you want to get paid the big bucks, you have to work hard, be very smart, spend a life time of dedication, and get lucky. That is just the way our county works.

So the $30,000 flight attendants are middle class Americans. Better than most in the world. Most of have pretty cushy life styles -- even the ones getting screwed by only making $30,000/yr.

Mechanics make more than flight attendants. Pilots make more than mechanics. Is that fair?

I do agree that it is wrong for the pensions to be taken away, but out of control benefit costs are destroying companies.

So invest for yourself. Become an owenr of a company, get your fellow employees to do it to, and get voting rights. Select the board of directors, and demand lower pay. This is America people. The success of these companies give us our plush life style, and we need to compensate the people that run them. Or would you like to watch Michael Jordan for one last year at $60 million?

Are you going to have a show on the E Howard Hunt's sons revelation about the JFK assassination and the role that LBJ played in the plot? Saint John Hunt recently released a tape recording of his fathers involvement as the story was not carried by mainstream media.
IE http://www.saintjohnhunt.com/

Please, Mr. Moyers, do LOTS more stories of this nature. After decades of increasing economic injustice, perversely defended by corporate media and our bought-and-paid-for politicians, most Americans are too worn out and confused to grasp what's really happening.

Obviously, we've got to wake up and reassert the power of our numbers, not to mention the power of what's right. Thanks for all you're doing to inform and inspire us.

Sadly, there's really no use to all the ballyhoo going on over executive compensation. Those who make the decisions are so disconnected from reality (how many rank-and-file employees on the BOD?) that they actually believe these bloated compensation schemes are OK!

While most everyone believes cannibalism is disgusting, and would never participate in it...the cannibal is thinking..."Tastes great!"

Mr Steenland may point out that in 2006 he was 5th of 6 CEO's in airline pay, but in 2006 many of his employees had a paycheck also..it's NOW 2007 and the employees can't pay their bills or buy food and clothes for thier children but he just got $26.6 MILLION to pay his...

In a sense you reap what you deserve.
How many of you belong to a Union.
Look at the rights of workers in USA. You don't have any.
Workers in most other Western governments wouln't put up with the crap that is dished up tp you

What bothers me is the sense of entitlement these CEOs have. It takes real arrogance to believe one's own job performance is greater in value than that of a COMBINED, say, 100,000 other employees. Even greater to believe that one's own family's comfort, safety, and health care are equal in value to that of a COMBINED 100,000 others' families.

These self-rewarding CEOs are harsh predators.

US Airways declared bankruptcy on the same day my brother in law retired. It took him 9 months to get a reduced pension from the PBGC. He received nothing for those 9 months. What shabby treatment for a first rate top professional who took responsibility for the lives of 350 people as he flew them across the ocean. Add insult to injury when executives get outlandish bonuses. A friend once told me that companies priorities are not the workers or the stock holders but only to fatten the fat cats on top. How sad.

I'm grateful that Moyers provided context for Northwest's actions. Namely, two other airlines had similarly egregious executive compensation programs, but Delta's Gerald Grinstein turned down millions in stock options and took a salary cut. It gave me a bit of hope!


Thankfully Seattle's KCTS has given the program a prominent position in its Friday night public affairs programming right after Washington Week. I hope other PBS stations follow their example. It's difficult for me to express how very much I value the work Bill Moyers does. He really makes a difference.

Not easy to pull me away from CBC N3MBERS at 10 on Friday nights - but Bill Moyers Journal has managed to do it.

Thanks to PBS, Cleveland TV 25 and Kent 45/49 for the thoughtful programming Moyers brings to my living room.

I tried to watch his program on cost of Iraq war and found it was being shown at 3:00 pm on Sunday (Atlanta). When I called the station someone read a prepared statement that more people would be able to see it at 3:00 Sunday afternoon. I told her that was ridiculous. I too will cancel my donations to PBS.

I can't believe Bill Moyers has practically dissapeared from PBS Sunday at 1:00 AM it's almost like not having it. Who is awake at that time?

I have access to two PBS stations. Bill Moyers' Journal has disappeared from both of them. Channel 42 in West Palm Beach dropped it entirely, Channel 2 in Miami has it at 1:00 A.M. Sunday morning. I was about to make a contribution but after the virtual blackout of Bill Moyers, I will not.

Why is a program of this importance, and something the whole country and world should be made aware of, being broadcast at an hour when most people won't see it? This program should air during prime time. CEO's and their Executives are raping workers in many industries. It's time for the country to be made aware of this and for something to be done about it. Please show this at a more reasonable hour.

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