WASHINGTON, DC—Congress approved a bill to increase the executive minimum wage from $515.15 to $565.15 an hour, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) announced Monday. The move marks the first increase in the wage since 1997.
"This is good news for all Americans who work in the upper levels of commerce," DeLay said. "Almost a third of America's hard-working executives toil at corporations day after day, yet still live below the luxury line. It was about time we gave a boost to the American white-collar worker."
The wage was calculated to help executives meet the federal standard-of-easy-living mark of $1.1 million a year. DeLay said that, although his goal is to ultimately reach an executive minimum wage of $800 per hour, he was satisfied with what he characterized as a "stop-gap measure."
"Many of the thousands of Americans overseeing the nation's factories, restaurant chains, and retailers can't even afford a jet," DeLay said. "It's our long-term goal to ensure that no one who sees to it that others work hard for a living will have to go without the basic necessities of the good life."
Under the new law, the executive-minimum salary will increase to more than $1.175 million a year, plus mandatory overtime for executives who work more than seven minutes after 5 p.m., on holidays, outside of their home offices, or from a limousine or non-chartered private aircraft. A separate section of the bill includes concessions for second- and third-housing credits, as well as single-player health-spa coverage.
Top executives nationwide have repeatedly called for wage increases in recent years.
"Our lifestyles are expensive to maintain," Boeing senior vice-president of international relations Tom Pickering said. "The costs of even the most basic executive transportation, food, and clothing are staggering. Since 1993, the average cost of maintaining a household of six, including a butler, a cook, a maid, a driver, and a groundskeeper, has increased by 14 percent. All this, even after we work our fingers to the bone for hundreds of hours a year, painstakingly assembling our benefits packages. It shouldn't have to be this hard."
Some executives called for even more support, in the form of increased benefits and reimbursements.
"Well, it's a good start," said Abby Kohnstamm, IBM senior vice-president of marketing. "But I still don't get a transportation allowance for my company-owned limo. And no one has addressed the fact that almost 8 percent of my income disappears after taxes."
Nick Scheele, Ford president and chief operating officer, said he looks forward to February 2004, when the wage increase is slated to take effect.
"It's about peace of mind," Scheele said. "Executives like myself are sick of living quarterly statement to quarterly statement, forced to check our bank balances before every little real-estate purchase. We're not asking for the world, just the overseas vacations that we so desperately need."
The pay hike marks a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation in one of the most polarized congresses in U.S. history. In the U.S. Senate, only Russ Feingold (D-WI) and John McCain (R-AZ) opposed the bill.
"This proves that politicians can work together when it involves the welfare of the citizens most responsible for keeping them in office," U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) said. "Those of us who hold higher office don't ever forget where we came from, and how we got where we are today. This wage hike is our way of giving something back to the American people who are most important."