By the time Douglas Oberhelman spends his first hour at his desk today he will already have made $5072.26 for that 60 minutes of effort. As the CEO of Caterpillar Inc. he’s had quite a ride. After joining the corporation in 1979, he moved ever upward through the ranks, serving in places like South America and Japan before settling into the home office in the U.S. Possessed of a first-rate business mind, he sits on numerous boards, including the National Association of Manufacturers. While many are demonizing him at present because of the London, Ontario situation, he appears to be moved by charitable impulses. He sits on the Easter Seals board, and helps with conservation issues.
Why then would such an individual turn the screws on his own Canadian workers? True, they only make $62,400 annually compared to his $10,550,300 that he earned in 2010, but still they are his workers. You can check out his financial earnings and options here. One wonders if he would stay as CEO if they told him he was to take a 50% pay cut. Would he remain if they no longer paid him enough to send his kids to a good post-graduate school or offer a liveable pension? And what would he do if they told him that along with the cut in pay, his benefits would be reduced and he would have an uncertain future? He would be rightfully angry. But this is exactly what he is asking of his own Canadian team.
Has he been a productive leader? Of course; his corporation made $43 billion in 2010. Yet his Canadian workers performed even at a higher level, raising their productivity by 20%. In all his busyness does he look after his family? Apparently so, but so do his workers in London, who put aside a great deal of their earnings for their kids’ education. Does he have a benefit plan that’s secure? Naturally; though it looks like his Canadian workers are close to losing theirs. He likely gives generously to charity, but he is easily matched by workers in the London plant, who donated time and money generously to Habitat for Humanity, My Sisters Place, Mission Services, London Food Bank, United Way, St. Joseph’s hospital, London Health Sciences Centre, Arts For Aids, to name only a few. If he suddenly lost his income, doubtless those charities he supports would take a significant hit. Well, that’s about what’s to happen in London. Furthermore, as with other plant closings, a number of his workers will have to rely on places like the London Food Bank if he doesn’t respect them or their community enough.
Then again, Mr. Oberhelman lives among the clay-footed gods, as far away from the challenges of the practical working individual as you can imagine. Forgetting his workers, he’ll find some privileged Canadian company where he exists. He’ll dine with the top 100 Canadian CEOs who each made an average of $8.38 million dollars – a 27% increase over the $6.6 million they acquired in 2009. There are others. According to the Centre For Policy Alternatives, the richest 1% of Canadians (250,000 people) received about one-third of all income gains between 1987 and 2007.
The Council reminds us that it wasn’t always this way. Between 1939 and 1977, the income share of the richest 1% of Canadians fell from 14% to 7.7%. Today it is regained all it had lost.
How is it that smart and charitable people like Douglas Oberhelman can exercise such a cruel action? Tomorrow we’ll consider at least one of the reasons. But for now it is enough to know that he does implement that injustice in a way that leaves his productive workers drinking coffee in the bitter cold around burning barrels while he networks with other one-percenters in global venues that offer the best of services.
And things only get better for them. Just this week the Government of Canada reduced the corporate tax rate. It stood at 21% in 2005 but is now a mere 15%. In the last two years the government has lost $11.5 billion in annual tax revenue because of the scaled reductions.
We are constantly being informed that such reductions are necessary to keep us competitive and our economy healthy. There are surely boatloads of money being made each and every year in Canada but the 99% can’t find it or get some kind of boost in their standard of living because of it.
And so in London even average citizens are growing restless with the likes of Mr. Oberhelman. A deep and abiding relationship that goes back 61 years, producing some of the finest locomotives in the world, is being pummelled under our watchful eye and we aren’t amused. There is something inherently wrong and indecent in this practice of gutting communities in need. Unknowingly the CEO of Caterpillar, by his belligerence and isolation, is sowing the seed for what will ultimately be citizen and community anger over the ruination of what once were productive and prosperous relationships. How did you get this way, Mr. Oberhelman? These people love their community, raise their families, and helped you produce a fantastic product. In so many ways they are not all that different from you, save for that one fundamental distinction – they care about their influence and effect on our city. For that reason alone they have become what you surely have moved away from – being human.