Of course, not all executive pay is up. Some companies have frozen or cut compensation, in response to tough economic conditions.
Omnova Solutions Inc., for example, froze pay for all salaried workers in 2002, including its executives, and did not lift the freeze until July 2004.
Even then, Omnova did not raise the salary of Chairman, CEO and President Kevin McMullen. The board looked at comparable pay for competitors and the firm's financial position and decided an increase was not warranted, said spokeswoman Sandi Noah.
The company did, however, give McMullen $120,000 worth of stock grants, and options on 50,000 shares last year, and his salary was raised 7.4 percent earlier this month, to $610,000. As well, none of the top executives have received cash bonuses in the last three years.
Union members at the company's Jeannette, Pa., plant signed a new contract in January, ending a six-week lockout, and said that management argued at the bargaining table that layoffs and cutbacks were spread throughout the company.
``[Management] said in the last talks, there will be shared sacrifices - not only will you be taking it on the chin, but so will management,'' said Ray Rjastrzab, regional staff representative for the United Steelworkers of America.
The head of the local union, however, questioned McMullen's stock compensation and said the union's new contract calls for raises that are one-third of what's needed to keep up with cost of living.
``That's ridiculous when you have workers taking pay cuts and this guy is getting fatter and fatter with stock options,'' said Al Bradosky, president of USW Local 22, which represents about 100 workers at the plant. (Before the contract, Omnova argued that its Jeannette union workers' wages were 8 percent above five of its industry competitors'.)
Still, union officials said they are very aware that the company has plants in China and Thailand that produce the same material they do in Jeannette, and said they want to work to make the Pennsylvania plant competitive. Rjastrzab said the union has good relations with plant manager Mike Rocco.
``The important thing is, we want to make that plant competitive and keep that plant open and keep our jobs,'' Rjastrzab said. ``I really think Omnova would like to keep plants in the United States.''
Like Omnova's recent contract, there's other anecdotal evidence that worker wages in the plastics industry are under pressure.
Two unscientific surveys from the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. found that wages for production workers were flat from 2001-04. The two surveys, for 2001 and 2004, do not represent the same companies and are not statistically valid, but they do paint a picture of difficult conditions.
There also have been suggestions from the White House this month that the country's recent economic gains are not spread equally. President Bush's economic team met at his Texas ranch earlier this month to explore policy options.
``One of the things we know is that less-educated people have seen their incomes and wages grow more slowly,'' Treasury Secretary John Snow told the Washington Post after the meeting. ``That's what the numbers tell us.''
At Newell Rubbermaid's Wooster plant, it's easy to see one possible explanation for those numbers.
Some of the union members who remained had seniority, and moved into warehouse jobs that did not pay as much as positions they had before, like machinists, said Lee Hilson, staff representative for USW Local 302.
Raw material cost increases had cut into the profitability of the trash bins and storage containers made there, he said.
Some of the workers took severance packages and went back to school, while others were unable to find comparable work and left the area, Hilson said: ``You pull the rug out from under them - it's difficult for them to see why.''
Newell Rubbermaid officials declined to be interviewed, instead releasing a statement saying the company sees a direct link between executive incentive compensation and shareholder return.
``The company is committed to consistently reviewing compensation policies and structure through rigorous research, analysis and competitive benchmarking,'' it said. ``The compensation committee of the board of directors makes these decisions based on what is right for the organization to remain competitive and attract and retain talent at the executive level, which will ultimately drive shareholder value.''
* * *
#1, Siegfried Wolf
Current: Executive vice chairman since 2002, Magna International Inc.
2005 - Named co-CEO
2001- CEO & president, Magna Steyr
1995 - President, Magna Europe
Compensation increase: 2003-04: +14%
Magna profit: 2003-04: +33.1%
* * *
#4, Jeffrey Curler
Current: Chief executive officer since 2000 & president since 1996, Bemis Co. Inc.
1998 - COO, Bemis
1982-96 - President, Curwood Inc., a Bemis subsidiary
Compensation increase: 2003-04: +119%
Bemis profit: 2003-04: +22.4%
* * *
#10, Rick Goings
Current: Chairman & CEO since 1997, Tupperware Corp.
1996 - President & COO, Tupperware
1992 - Executive VP, Premark International & president of then-Premark subsidiary Tupperware Worldwide
Compensation increase: 2003-04: +90.6%
Tupperware profit: 2003-04: +83%
* * *
# 6, Joseph Galli Jr.
Current: Chief executive officer & president since 2001, Newell Rubbermaid Co.
2000 - CEO & president, VerticalNet Inc.
1999 - CEO & president, Amazon.com
Compensation increase: 2003-04: +175%
Newell profit for 2004: ($116.1 million)