Robert Morse is my new hero

by Jim Longworth

Robert Morse’s face will never grace Mt. Rushmore, nor will a statue of him likely be erected in the halls of Congress. Yet his populist crusade merits our attention, respect and gratitude. That’s because at age 92, the Morristown, NJ resident has made it his life’s work to lobby for CEO pay caps.

Morse purchases stocks in a variety of big corporations, then attends shareholder meetings where he makes greedy CEOs uncomfortable.

For the most part, Morse’s specific proposals have met with little success, evidenced by his recent attempts at capping CEO pay during a gathering of Merck investors. There, only about 4 percent of shareholders voted for Morse’s reform measure. The story was the same at Exxon, Ford and Coca-Cola. But Morse’s efforts have resulted in a nationwide movement for “Say on Pay,” the popular name for a system whereby shareholders would have direct input on salary levels of their top dogs.

In fact, according to the Risk Metrics Group, variations of “Say on Pay” have now been considered by nearly 100 major corporations, and a fourth of those have already voted on the reform, resulting in an average of about 40 percent support from shareholders.

And why not? CEO salaries are out of control, and grossly disproportionate to compensation for rank-and-file employees.

Late last year, the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy reported that an average CEO salary is 340 times greater than that of his laborers.

In addition to this obscenity, such disparities also result in less monies available for research and development and employee training, thus having a negative impact on morale as well as on long-term earnings.

Morse expresses contempt for these greedy corporate bosses by asking, “How many planes can you fly on? How many pairs of shoes can you wear?”

Morse believes that capping CEO salaries at $500,000 per year is more than fair, and he continues to press that point with whoever will listen. For example, following last year’s meetings where a majority of shareholders supported CEO caps, Verizon Communications and Par Pharmaceuticals will finally give investors a non-binding vote on “Say on Pay” beginning in 2009.

Morse admits that bringing CEO salaries back in line will be a long process, but he is not about to give up. “I’m fighting greed”, he told the Associated Press recently. “They [CEOs] don’t earn their money. I worked for my money”.

Yes, Robert Morse deserves some sort of recognition for his tireless, common-sense efforts. Perhaps a Nobel Prize. Or maybe a Congressional Medal of Honor. Even better, John McCain or Barack Obama could make him secretary of labor, where he could ride roughshod over corporate pirates.

At the very least, we should all tip our collective caps to this great man.

So, here’s to you, Robert. You are a great American thinker, and a true American hero.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).