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U.S. corporations will need to disclose how their chief executive officers' paychecks compare with those of their workers under a proposal unveiled on Wednesday by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The SEC's CEO pay ratio rule is championed by unions and labor advocates who say the disclosures would help investors identify whether a company's compensation model is too top-heavy.
But companies and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Center on Executive Compensation, which represents human resources executives, have vehemently opposed the measure, saying it is too costly to compile the data and would not be useful for investors.
They have urged the SEC to scale it back, possibly by allowing companies with global offices to compile the median annual pay of their workers using compensation data from only their U.S.-based employees.
The SEC's proposal on Wednesday aims to strike a balance between the two opposing viewpoints.
The agency said it would still require companies to include compensation data for all of its workers, including those employed overseas or by its subsidiaries.
However, the SEC also said it would give companies more flexibility in how they calculate the median. They could, for instance, use a statistical sample.
They would also need to tell investors what methods they used to determine the median pay ratio.
"As owners of public companies, shareholders have the right to know whether CEO pay multiples reflect CEO performance," said SEC Democratic Commissioner Luis Aguilar in prepared remarks.
"Pay ratio disclosure can provide a valuable new perspective for executive compensation decisions," he added.
The CEO ratio pay proposal is one of two major outstanding regulations mandated by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law that the SEC planned to tackle at Wednesday's public meeting.
The agency also was expected to adopt a reform that will allow it to oversee financial advisers to cities, counties and other municipal entities that sell public debt or manage public money.
The rule will require advisers to register with the SEC and be held to a "fiduciary" standard, or ensure they act in the best interest of customers.
The CEO pay ratio rule's unveiling comes right on the heels of the fifth anniversary of the collapse of investment banking giant Lehman Brothers and the U.S. financial meltdown.
The 2007-2009 financial crisis led to widespread public outrage over the lavish compensation of bank CEOs, especially after the government swooped in to rescue the sector.
A new report by the Institute for Policy Studies, which analyzed data on the highest-earning CEOs over a 20-year period, found that those whose companies collapsed or received government bailouts have held 112 of the top 500 slots.